1 WALLIS CONSULTING GROUP PTY LTD 25 KING STREET MELBOURNE 3000 VICTORIA TELEPHONE (03) FAX (03) A.B.N MARKET RESEARCH ENERGY RETAIL MARKET PRICE MONITORING REPORT Prepared for Mr Brett Harrison Project Officer Performance Monitoring Essential Services Commission MELBOURNE VIC 3000 October 2009 WG inclusive
2 TABLE OF CONTENTS EXECUTIVE SUMMARY... I 1.0 BACKGROUND, AIM AND OBJECTIVES BACKGROUND AIM AND OBJECTIVES OF THE SURVEY METHODOLOGY SAMPLING OF RESPONDENTS DEVELOPMENT OF FIELD MATERIAL PILOT OF METHODOLOGY FINAL METHODOLOGY ANALYSIS OF RESPONSES AND ISSUES ENCOUNTERED DETAILED FINDINGS CONTRACTUAL ARRANGEMENTS DISCOUNTS CONTRACT TERM CANCELLATION FEES ELECTRICITY RATES FOR RESIDENTIAL CUSTOMERS ELECTRICITY SUPPLY CHARGE - RESIDENTIAL CUSTOMERS ELECTRICITY USAGE RATES RESIDENTIAL CUSTOMERS ELECTRICITY TOTAL YEARLY COSTS RESIDENTIAL CUSTOMERS ELECTRICITY RATES FOR SMALL BUSINESSES ELECTRICITY SUPPLY CHARGES SMALL BUSINESSES ELECTRICITY USAGE RATES SMALL BUSINESSES ELECTRICITY TOTAL YEARLY COSTS SMALL BUSINESSES GAS RATES FOR RESIDENTIAL CUSTOMERS AND SMALL BUSINESSES GAS SUPPLY CHARGE RESIDENTIAL CUSTOMERS GAS USAGE RATES RESIDENTIAL CUSTOMERS GAS TOTAL YEARLY COSTS FOR RESIDENTIAL CUSTOMERS GAS SUPPLY CHARGES BUSINESS GAS USAGE RATES BUSINESS GAS TOTAL YEARLY COSTS FOR BUSINESSES WRITTEN CONFIRMATIONS WRITTEN CONFIRMATIONS AGREED TO AND RECEIVED REFUSAL OF WRITTEN CONFIRMATIONS Appendix 1: Information package consumer survey Appendix 2: Information package small business survey
3 Energy Retail Market Pricing Monitoring Page i EXECUTIVE SUMMARY This Energy Retail Market Pricing survey consisted of a quote-gathering exercise for both residential and small business energy customers and a comparison with rates as published on retailers websites. The exercise involved obtaining 462 residential quotes and 157 small business quotes, focusing on the gas and electricity rates and the contractual arrangements provided to both market segments. Quotes were invited on respondents actual energy use and recalculated to annualised average usage and supply charges. Recalculations were based on average usage for residential customers and small businesses, as provided by the Commission 1. The key findings of this survey are: 1. Contractual Arrangements The vast majority of quotes were provided with Direct Debit, B-Pay and Credit Card payment options, while other payment options were far less frequent. The most common discount offered to residential customers was prompt payment discounts, whereas business customers were mostly offered discounts for long-term contracts. This seems to suggest that energy retailers are keen for small businesses to sign long contracts, while they are focussed on prompt payment for Victorian residents. The most common contract term for both residential and business customers was two years. Cancellation fees for business customers were mostly between $50-$99, whereas most residential quotes were offered without a cancellation fee. Businesses that own their property were more likely than businesses that rent to be offered a contract without a waiting fee, which seems to indicate that retailers are attempting to lock business customers in by charging a fee if companies rent their premises. 2. Electricity Rates for Residential customers The average quoted supply charge for residential customers was $179 with considerable differences ($50 or 28%) between the lowest and highest retailer s charges. Older respondents and those living in regional Victoria were generally quoted the highest supply charges. Most retailers quoted higher supply charges than those published on their website, but the actual differences were small. The annualised electricity usage bill for residential customers on peak/offpeak rates was $958 on average. These usage rates vary considerably ($184 or 19%) between retailers. Most electricity retailers quoted the highest peak/off-peak usage rates in regional areas. 1 See for more information about the calculation of annual rates.
4 Energy Retail Market Pricing Monitoring Page ii Eleven of the fourteen retailers quoted higher peak/off-peak electricity rates than those published. Half of the quoted rates were more than one cent higher which translates to more than $40 per annum on average more than the average rate (or approximately 4%) The average electricity usage rate per annum was $658 for residential customers on all-day rates, with substantial differences ($140 or 21%) between the lowest and highest average rates quoted by retailers. Most retailers quoted their highest average all-day usage rates in regional Victoria. Ten of the fourteen electricity retailers quoted higher all-day rates than published, although the differences were mostly within 10% of the quote. Half of all-day electricity quotes were within a one cent range (or within $40 on an annual basis) of the average published rate, while one in three was higher and one in eight lower. 3. Electricity Rates for Small Businesses Retailers quoted small business customers $234 on average for supply of electricity, with a difference of $87 (37%) between the lowest and highest average retailer charges. Most retailers charged the highest supply charges in the Melbourne CBD and northern suburbs (Metro 1). Four of nine retailers quoted higher supply charges than published. The annualised electricity usage bill for a company on peak/off-peak rates was $6,102 on average. These quoted rates vary considerably ($1,314 or 22%) between retailers. Most electricity retailers quoted the highest peak/off-peak usage rates in Melbourne s eastern suburbs (Metro 2). Eight out of nine retailers quoted higher peak/off-peak usage rates than published on their websites. Six in ten peak quotes were within a two-cent range (or within $500 on an annualised basis) of the average published rate. A third of the quotes were higher and only one in eight were less than published. The average usage rate per annum was $2,049 for businesses on all-day rates, with substantial differences ($588 or 29%) between the lowest and highest average rates. Most retailers quoted their highest average rates either in the regional area or in Melbourne s eastern suburbs (Metro 2). The majority of retailers quoted similar, or slightly lower, all-day electricity usage rates to businesses than their published rates. Just more than half (55%) of all-day quotes were within a one-cent range (or within $250 on an annualised basis) of the average published rate. The remainder were evenly divided between being charged more or less than this.
5 Energy Retail Market Pricing Monitoring Page iii 4. Gas Rates for Residential customers and Small Businesses Residential customers were quoted $155 on average for supply of gas, with only small variations between retailers. Seven of the eight retailers quoted higher supply charges than published, but differences were less than $30. The average gas usage rate per annum was $659 for residential customers, with a substantial difference of $213 (32%) between the lowest and highest average rates. Most retailers quoted the highest rates in regional Victoria and to those aged years old. Just more than half (56%) of peak gas quotes for residential customers were within a one-cent range (or within $32 on an annualised basis) of the average published rate. A third were quoted more than this and only one in eight were quoted less. The average quoted supply charge for businesses was $182 with little variation between retailers. Three of the five retailers quoting to businesses had the highest supply charges in the eastern suburbs (Metro 2). Most retailers quoted rates similar to their published rates. The annualised gas usage bill for a company was $5,127 on average. Gas usage rates vary considerably between retailers, with $945 (18%) between the lowest and highest average quote. Three of the five retailers quoted higher rates than those published, while the remaining two quoted similar rates. Most retailers charged their highest usage rates to regional businesses. Half (49%) of peak gas quotes for small businesses were within a onecent range (or within $242 on an annualised basis) of the average published rate, while the other half (51%) were quoted more than onecent more. 5. Written Confirmations Approximately six in ten residential and small business customers were promised a written confirmation. However, only half of residential customers and just over a quarter of businesses received them within 10 days of the verbal quote. There were significant differences between retailers in providing written confirmations, with six retailers providing them more than 8 out of 10 times, but three retailers providing them less than half the time. The most common reason given by retailers for not providing written confirmations for residential customers was that they should refer to the website. Business customers were mainly told that they would have to set up a dummy account in order to obtain a written confirmation or that they would only be provided with written confirmation by .
6 Energy Retail Market Pricing Monitoring Page iv 6. Methodology It is worth noting that attempted to use rates as published on retailers websites but was not always able to find usable rates easily. As a result, the rates supplied by retailers to the ESC and published on the Your Choice website were used. Residential customers were able to gather verbal quotes quite easily however, the process was harder for businesses and s telephone interviewing staff gathered the quotes on behalf of businesses that had been recruited to take part in the study. A much higher percentage of residential customers received written quotes than did businesses. From these results we conclude that: The discounts provided to residential and business customers show that retailers are keen for businesses to sign long contracts, whereas they are focussed on prompt payment for Victorian residents. In line with this finding is the observation that cancellation fees are higher for businesses that rent compared to those that own their premises. Electricity supply charges and usage rates for residential customers vary considerably between retailers, with the highest rates generally being quoted in regional areas. Most retailers quoted higher rates than those published on their websites. Supply charges and usage rates for electricity for small business differed significantly between retailers and most quoted rates higher than those published. The gas supply charges showed little variation between retailers, for both the residential and business market. The quoted gas supply charges were similar to the published rates. Gas usage rates for both residential and business customers vary considerably between retailers and most quoted higher gas usage rates than published. Differences between areas did appear, but there was no pattern evident of them being systematically higher in one area compared to the others. Variation between average published rates and what was quoted was considerable. Quote gatherers were unaware of this because they had not been instructed to have published rates in front of them when they gathered the quote or to challenge the information given verbally. As a result we do not know what would happen if retailers were presented with their published rates at the time of gaining a quote. Half of residential customers and only one in four business customers received written confirmations of the verbal quotes.
7 Energy Retail Market Pricing Monitoring Page v These findings lead us to suggest that for residential and small business customers to get the best rates, they should be aware of the published rates prior to approaching retailers. There are two reasons for this: 1. To be able to challenge information they are given verbally; and 2. To make a fair comparison between quotes. In practice, this means that it should either be easier to find the appropriate rates on retailers websites, or customers should be encouraged to consult the Your Choice website prior to obtaining a quote. There is an opportunity for the ESC to make its website as user friendly as possible. We also conclude that areas of the Retail Code are not being adhered to strictly by retailers, specifically, quoted prices are not matching published rates in the majority of cases and retailers are not providing written confirmation of quotes in the majority of cases either.
8 Energy Retail Market Price Monitoring Page 1 of BACKGROUND, AIM AND OBJECTIVES 1.1 BACKGROUND The Essential Services Commission (Commission) is the economic regulator for essential services, amongst them electricity and gas. Its primary objective in regards to these services is to promote the interests of Victorian households and businesses with regard to price, quality and reliability. The Commission is also required to have regard to the competition within the energy industry in Victoria. There are fourteen energy retailers currently active in the Victorian energy retail market, some of whom have a long history in the previously franchised market (the local retailers) and others who have entered the market as it opened up to competition. Eight of these retailers are licensed to sell gas to Victorian Households, while all 14 are licensed to sell electricity. The energy retail market for small business is slightly smaller, with 10 retailers licensed to sell electricity to small businesses and 5 retailers licensed to sell gas. Until 2008, local retailers had an obligation to offer energy to all residential and small business customers in their region at the standing offer contract price agreed by the Victorian Government. Additionally, all retailers could offer market contracts to customers, generally at lower rates than the standing offer. The Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) 2 conducted a review of the effectiveness of retail energy competition in Victoria in 2008 and found that the competition is working well. The Victorian Government subsequently removed its statutory reserve pricing requirements and from 1 January 2009 retailers have been able to determine the standing energy tariffs without direct Government oversight. However, the retailers are now obliged to publish standing offer and market offer prices and the Essential Services Commission publishes these prices on its website. The key focus of this research is to assess whether the market offers available to residential and small business customers match the actual contract prices offered for electricity and gas in the Victorian retail energy market. This survey focuses on residential and small business customers and provides an overview of the offers and contractual arrangements offered to both market segments AEMC Review of Retail Contestability in the Victorian Energy Market Retailer and Customer research conducted by
9 Energy Retail Market Price Monitoring Page 2 of AIM AND OBJECTIVES OF THE SURVEY The aim of this survey is to determine the nature and extent of competitive market offers and to analyse differentials with the prices and offers published by the retailers. The objectives are to: Develop an efficient and effective survey methodology, including the; o o o Development of calling scripts; Preparation of a representative sample; and Conduct of a pilot test prior to implementation of the main survey. Implement the consumer and small businesses main survey; Report on any other issues, including compliance issues, which were identified during the survey process; Provide the outcomes in a manner and form enabling the Commission to easily analyse the results and compare them with the market offers as published by the energy retailers. The remainder of this document contains the detailed findings of a survey designed to meet these objectives.
10 Energy Retail Market Price Monitoring Page 3 of METHODOLOGY The consumer and small business market pricing surveys were developed using the following methodological steps: Sampling of respondents; Development of field material; Pilot of methodology; Final methodology; and Analysis of responses and issues encountered 2.1 SAMPLING OF RESPONDENTS When the Commission conducted a similar study previously, one of the key flaws was the small number of quotations obtained for each retailer. The aim of this study was to provide a more robust measure, thus the target was to achieve as close to 15 quotes per retailer for both the residential and small business market as possible. In addition, three regions were to be studied. To be as realistic as possible and to obtain genuine quotes, quote gatherers were recruited from the public on the basis that it seemed feasible to ask residential customers to seek 6 quotes and business customers to obtain 4 quotes. Bearing in mind the limited number of retailers offering gas and electricity in each region, 108 quote gatherers were recruited for the consumer market and 57 for the small business market Sample of residential respondents Residential customers were sampled with quotas on gender, age, home ownership (renting or owning) and income. The areas sampled were: Metro 1 (central and inner northern suburbs, including places such as Melbourne, Fitzroy, Brunswick, Carlton and Clifton Hill), Metro 2 (inner southern and eastern suburbs, including places such as Glen Waverly, Brighton and Caulfield) and Regional/Rural (including places such as Ballarat, Bendigo and Warrnambool). A total of 108 respondents were recruited. Residential Customers Income Income <$50,000 Income >$50,000 Age Own/Rent O R O R O R O R O R O R O R O R NES * Region Metro area Metro area Regional / rural TOTAL = The maximum achievable number of residential quotes was 648, as each respondent was requested to obtain 6 quotes, either for electricity or gas.
11 Energy Retail Market Price Monitoring Page 4 of Sample of small business respondents Small business respondents were recruited with quotas set on area, number of employees and property type. The areas sampled are the same as those used for the residential sample (Metro 1, Metro 2 and regional/rural). A total of 57 respondents were recruited, as follows: Small Business customers Nr employees Less than 10 employees 10 or more employees Own/Rent Own Rent Own Rent Region Metro area Metro area Regional / rural TOTAL = For each of these respondents a maximum number of 4 quotes were requested, bringing the total maximum number of small business quotes to 228. Cooper Symons & Associates, a company specialising in recruitment for social and market research in Victoria, recruited all residential respondents and small business respondents for this survey. 2.2 DEVELOPMENT OF FIELD MATERIAL It was critically important that each quote gatherer collected the same information for each retailer. To ensure this happened, an information pack was put together consisting of detailed instructions and a calling script. The introduction letter explained the background of the study and what was required of respondents, while the calling scripts provided respondents with details about which retailers to contact and what to ask each retailer, so that each respondent would obtain the same information. The introduction letter also mentioned that respondents would receive an incentive of $100 for participation. In addition, thorough briefings were given to the respondent recruitment team at Cooper Symons & Associates and s Business to Business interviewing team to ensure that everyone involved in the process was doing it the same way. The calling scripts were developed collaboratively between Wallis Consulting and the Commission and were based on the mystery shopping exercise conducted previously by the Commission to obtain energy market prices and related information. The overall structure of the calling scripts was as follows: Details of person requesting a quote; Details of energy retailer and date of quote; Gas rates, including peak, off-peak and all-year rates (for those requesting gas quotes);
12 Energy Retail Market Price Monitoring Page 5 of 57 Electricity rates, including peak and off peak and all-day rates (for those requesting electricity quotes; Supply charge; Contractual arrangements, including: Methods of bill payment; Discounts offered; Contract terms; and Cancellation fees. Details regarding written confirmation of quotes. 2.3 PILOT OF METHODOLOGY The crux of the methodology piloted consisted of residential and business respondents contacting energy retailers to obtain gas and electricity quotes. This was seen as the most natural way of obtaining quotes, in that respondents were actually at their home or business when calling and would be in a similar environment and have a similar level of knowledge of the energy market as those who are actually obtaining quotes and are thinking about changing energy retailer. The pilot survey was conducted with 6 businesses and 6 residential customers. Residential customers were asked to obtain 6 quotes each, while businesses were asked to obtain a minimum of 4 quotes. Respondents were asked not to request a quote from their current retailer. This pilot set-up allowed for a maximum of 36 residential quotes and 24 small business quotes, meaning that all energy and electricity retailers in Victoria were contacted multiple times during the pilot. The methodology as used for the pilot was deemed suitable for the residential study and only small changes were suggested. These were: Changes to the content of the calling script and introduction letter, to improve respondents understanding of the task and to allow respondents more space on the calling script to fill out additional details; Respondents to be provided with set dates by which they had to complete gathering quotes and dates by which they had to return the scripts and written confirmations to. Improve the participation of respondents by increasing the involvement of the recruitment company. Specifically, the recruitment company was to make follow-up calls to respondents, as following: An initial phone call to remind respondents to participate by the due date;
13 Energy Retail Market Price Monitoring Page 6 of 57 A second phone call just after respondents were supposed to have completed the telephone task, to ensure the survey remained top of mind and response rates were kept to a maximum; and A third call to remind respondents to mail all calling scripts and written confirmations back to Wallis Consulting, to ensure respondents were not waiting longer than the 10 days provided for receipt of written confirmations. The response from small business respondents during the pilot was below expectations, with only 2 out of 6 completing the task at hand. The main reason stated by small business respondents for not completing the exercise was lack of time. A different methodology was suggested to ensure a sufficient number of responses were obtained for the small business survey. The main change to the original methodology was that respondents would not call the retailers themselves, but Wallis Consulting would take up that task. 2.4 FINAL METHODOLOGY Based on the pilot findings the following methodologies were used for the main residential and small business survey Residential Survey Methodology The suggested changes from the pilot study resulted in the following methodology: 1-Information packs sent to respondents Respondents were provided with an information pack consisting of an introduction letter and calling scripts. Respondents had to fill out the retailers responses on the script and request written confirmations of the quotes. The introduction letter and calling scripts are provided as an appendix to this report. 2-Obtaining energy quotes (by respondents) Respondents were required to call 6 energy retailers each, within a set timeframe. Respondents were provided with the contact details for each retailer they had to contact, ensuring that respondents knew which retailers they had to approach. 3-Reminder Calls Reminder calls were made to the respondents to ensure that each activity was carried out on time. 4-Return of materials to Respondents were provided with reply-paid envelopes to return the completed calling scripts and the received written confirmations to the Wallis Group. Respondents were asked to send all their calling scripts and written confirmations back 10 days after the last quote was requested, allowing retailers sufficient time to provide written confirmations.
14 Energy Retail Market Price Monitoring Page 7 of 57 5-Data entry and payment of incentives Data entry commenced after the quotes and written confirmations were received by Wallis Consulting. Incentives were paid one week after feedback from respondents Small Business Survey Methodology The suggested changes from the pilot study resulted in the following methodology for the small business survey: 1-Introduction letter sent to small business respondents The introduction letters explained why the survey is conducted and what is required of respondents. Basically, small business respondents were to fax a copy of a recent energy bill to Wallis Consulting, so that Wallis interviewers could call retailers on their behalf. The introduction letter explained to respondents that the energy retailers would send written confirmations to them and that they were to send these to Wallis. 2-Requesting quotes by Wallis Consulting Wallis Consulting s field team contacted the energy retailers after the energy bills of participating businesses were received, and asked retailers for quotes. Interviewers used a calling script, similar to the script used for the residential survey, which provided them with details about which retailers they had to contact and what they needed to ask to obtain an electricity or gas quote. Interviewers had to fill out the retailers responses on the script and request written confirmations of the quotes. 3-Return of materials to Business respondents were provided with reply-paid envelopes to return the written confirmations to the Wallis Group. Respondents were asked to send all written confirmations to Wallis Consulting 10 days after the last quote was requested, allowing retailers sufficient time to provide written confirmations. 4-Data entry and payment of incentives Data entry commenced after quotes were requested and written confirmations were received by Wallis Consulting. Incentives were paid one week after receipt of written confirmations. Of the retailers registered to provide energy to the Victorian business market, Neighbourhood and Energy Click Energy were omitted from the electricity survey and Energy Australia was from the gas survey. Neighbourhood Energy is focussed on getting neighbourhoods to jointly take up energy offers and is not seen as a player on the business market. Click Energy is focussed on internet transactions, and given the small business customer base of both Click Energy and Energy Australia, it was thought that this telephone exercise might interfere with their business market focus.
15 Energy Retail Market Price Monitoring Page 8 of ANALYSIS OF RESPONSES AND ISSUES ENCOUNTERED Response rates are provided for both the residential and business survey, after which the residential and small business profiles are presented, followed by a summary of the issues encountered during the survey Response to the residential survey Respondents were asked to contact energy retailers by the 10 th August 2009 and to return the calling scripts and written confirmations by the 24 th August A total of 462 completed calling scripts were returned to Wallis Consulting by the due date, of which 308 (67%) were electricity quotes and 154 (33%) were gas quotes. This brings the overall response rate to 71% Response to the business survey Wallis Group interviewers requested energy quotes between 14 th August 2009 and 24 th August A total of 204 energy quotes were requested by Wallis Consulting, of which 131 (64%) were electricity quotes and 63 (31%) were gas quotes. However, 23% of these responses were either incomplete, due to the limited information provided by the retailers or because some retailers refused to provide a quote (see for more information). This means that a total of 157 business quotes were obtained, or a response rate of 77% Profiles of respondents Analysis for the residential survey was done by area, age, income and property type, while analysis for the business survey was done by area, number of employees and property type. The following tables show the small business and residential profiles of respondents.
16 Energy Retail Market Price Monitoring Page 9 of 57 Table I: Profile of Victorian residential respondents Percentages achieved AREA Numbers achieved AREA METRO 1 METRO 2 REGIONAL METRO 1 METRO 2 REGIONAL Total (%) (%) (%) (%) (462) (150 (160) (152) GENDER Male Female AGE Over HOUSEHOLD INCOME Less than $25, $25,000 - $50, $50,000 - $75, $75,000 - $100, More than $100, Not answered PROPERTY Owned/being purchased Rented BORN Australia Overseas Table II: Profile of Victorian Small Business respondents Percentages achieved AREA Numbers achieved AREA METRO 1 METRO 2 REGIONAL METRO 1 METRO 2 REGIONAL Total (%) (%) (%) (%) (157) (55) (56) (46) NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES Less than or more PROPERTY Owned/being purchased Rented