Three national energy companies are teaming up with three Victorian water retailers and the Consumer Utilities Advocacy Centre (CUAC) to deliver a new Australia-wide project.

The CUAC-led project involves Origin Energy, AGL, Energy Australia, City West Water, South East Water and Yarra Valley Water, and will help to improve fairness for customers of energy and water utilities.

The six month project titled, ‘Principles For A Fair Consumer Experience,’ aims to establish an industry best practice benchmark to define a fair experience for customers and guide retailers in their dealings with them.

CUAC Chair, Ronda Held, said for the first time, energy and water retailers will open up their operations and work together.

Through the project, the retailers will be able to identify the operating principles that work well in providing a fair service to customers and share that information with others in the sector.

“Energy and water retailers have given the project team access to their processes, enabling the tracking of interactions with customers who call frontline sales staff, credit and collections personnel as well as those dealing with people experiencing payment difficulties and complaints,” Ms Held said.

“By working with leading retailers, we will gain an understanding of the practices that work well to ensure consumers are dealt with fairly and equitably while accessing these vital services.”

Ms Held said it was important to establish industry-wide guidelines to improve access and fairness for all consumers but particularly those experiencing payment difficulties.

“In an environment where contracts can be complex and prices are rising, it is even more important to ensure that principles of fairness are consistently followed,” she said.

Yarra Valley Water Managing Director, Pat McCafferty, said Yarra Valley Water is excited to have the opportunity to take part in this project, to learn and share experiences which could benefit millions of Australians across the utility sector.

“The largest Victorian Water and energy businesses are offering complete transparency in how they interact with customers,” Mr McCafferty said.

“This project highlights a real commitment to collaborate across the utility sector, with the aim of achieving the best outcomes for customers.

“As a sector we want to ensure our customers are being adequately supported and treated fairly. Industry wide guidelines will also mean that customers will get a consistent service, making it easier for customers to get access to what they need, when they need it.

“We are enthusiastic to share what we know, and also to have access to real examples from other businesses that we can learn from.”

South East Water Customer General Manager, Hamish Reid, said, “Our customers rely on the water services we provide and it’s only fair that everyone can access them.

“We have a long-standing range of programs in place to ensure that everyone has the flexibility, choice and access they need as South East Water customers, but there’s more our industry can achieve towards fairness, and we’re pleased to be able to contribute to this vital piece of work.”

Over the next six months, the CUAC will conduct a consultation process with Origin, AGL, Energy Australia, City West Water, South East Water and Yarra Valley Water to identify examples of best practice in the handling of consumer issues.

A discussion paper will be released in late 2016 to coincide with roundtable discussions with industry, government, welfare, community and business organisations.

For more information on the Principles For A Fair Consumer Experience project, visit cuac.org.au. 

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