National Seniors Australia has urged the Federal Government to implement urgently key recommendations of the ACCC investigation into retail energy pricing.
The ACCC has said Australian households could save between $290 and $750 a year if the sweeping reforms are implemented.
National Seniors’ Chief Advocate Ian Henschke said the ACCC report, released on Wednesday, 11 July, had revealed the widespread abuse of market power by larger energy companies, which had affected vulnerable older Australians badly.
Mr Henschke said spiralling electricity costs over the past decade was a significant concern for seniors, particularly those on low fixed incomes.
National Seniors wanted to see quick action on the recommendation to abolish standing offers and replace these with a default market offer at or below the price set by the Australian Energy Regulator. According to the ACCC, the default offer should contain simple pricing, minimum payment periods, access to bill smoothing and paper bills.
Mr Henschke said National Seniors had called for a default offer in its submission to the ACCC enquiry last year, because of insufficient trust in the standard retail alternatives.
“Older consumers have been reticent to take up offers in the past because they were wary of the implications,” Mr Henschke said.
“In many instances, older consumers have found themselves worse off because the terms and conditions of market offers are confusing, misleading or difficult to compare.
“Access to a government default offer will also benefit those consumers unable to shop around for a market offer because of limited digital literacy.”
Mr Henschke said National Seniors also supported the ACCC recommendations to set a reference bill amount, from which retailers would apply any discounts, and to restrict conditional discounts such as pay-on-time offers.
Using the default offer to set the benchmark from which discounts were applied would ensure customers could clearly see if an alternative market offer was a better deal.
“This will stop retailers giving false discounts on inflated prices,” Mr Henschke said.
“The ACCC has also argued that pay-on-time discounts are misleading and should be stopped. National Seniors agrees and urges the government to act quickly to implement these and other changes.
“They will assist consumers who find it difficult to readily understand and compare complicated market offers and especially those with low digital literacy. We know there are millions of Australians who have these problems.
“The bottom line is all consumers have been ripped off for far too long. But seniors shouldn’t have to be choosing between buying food or paying for heating during winter or cooling in summer.”