HIGH COSTS: Seven electricity suppliers have agreed to work on better informing users of cost options, via digital platforms.
HIGH COSTS: Seven electricity suppliers have agreed to work on better informing users of cost options, via digital platforms.

Non-digital seniors to be drained of power

NATIONAL Seniors are calling for everyone to have the same access to a basic, no-frills electricity supplier pricing offers regardless of which retailer they are using.

National Seniors chief advocate Ian Henschke said under the retailer agreement struck by the Federal Government yesterday, consumers wanting to reap the benefits of the new requirement would still have to use the Energy Made Easy website or another independent comparison website to shop around.

"This neglects the digital literacy challenges many older people still face," Mr Henschke said.

"The latest Australian digital inclusion index shows people aged 65 and over are Australia's least digitally-included age group and this 'age gap' has been steadily widening since 2015."

For those not digitally connected Mr Henschke said they are being forced to ring the individual companies to find out what deals are available.

To avoid a two-tier system arising between the digital and non-digital consumers, Mr Henschke is recommending a leaflet is sent out to these consumers detailing in simple terms what is available.

"It's beholden on the companies to simply put down what their best offer is," he said.

His other recommendation is that Energy Made Easy set up a phone helpline, funded and staffed by the government, so that a pensioner can talk through what is on offer and the complexities of those deals from each of the electricity suppliers.

Perhaps the government can fund the helpline by charging the electricity companies for the service. "We know some of the electricity companies are making big profits," Mr Henschke said.

Retailer representatives were confronted yesterday by Malcolm Turnbull telling them that Australians are paying far too much for their power.

Seven of those retailers - AGL Energy, Origin Energy, Momentum Energy, Simply Energy, Snowy Hydro, Alinta Energy and Energy Australia - all agreed to -

  • Contacting all the customers now who are on expired discounts and telling them how much they can save on a better deal.
  • Requiring companies report to the government and the ACCC what they are doing to get families on to a better deal and how many families remain on expired deals.
  • Developing simple, plain English, fact sheets with understandable comparison rates.
  • Supporting a change to the electricity rules requiring companies to inform customers when their discount benefits end, setting out the dollar impact of doing nothing.
  • Ensuring families and individuals on hardship programs will not lose any benefit or discount for late payment. 

"While the agreement the government has struck with retailers will provide more useful billing information, it does not address the underlying issue facing consumers, which is the proliferation of offers that are confusing and misleading," Mr Henschke said.

"Given the ACCC has had to deal with misleading information from retailers in the past, can we really trust retailers to tell their customers how to get a better deal?"

The Federal Government's agreement included an expectation that energy companies will continue to work with the government in the coming months to make more agreement changes to ensure families are not paying more than necessary for their electricity supply.

"I don't think it matters whether you are digitally literate, or not, most people are fed up with the system and they would prefer to have a simple, fair, base-rate of a price per kilowatt hour which doesn't vary very much and you just take that rate," Mr Henschke said.

"National Seniors will continue to fight for fairness in this area," he added said. 

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