Electricity retail businesses performance against customer service indicators in NSW

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1 Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal Electricity retail businesses performance against customer service indicators in NSW For the period 1 July 2007 to 30 June 2011 Electricity Information Paper January 2012

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3 Electricity retail businesses performance against customer service indicators in NSW For the period 1 July 2007 to 30 June 2011 Electricity Information Paper January 2012

4 Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal of New South Wales 2012 This work is copyright. The Copyright Act 1968 permits fair dealing for study, research, news reporting, criticism and review. Selected passages, tables or diagrams may be reproduced for such purposes provided acknowledgement of the source is included. ISBN The Tribunal members for this review are: Mr James Cox PSM, Chief Executive Officer and Full Time Member Inquiries regarding this document should be directed to a staff member: Paul Newson (02) Yan Cheung (02) Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal of New South Wales PO Box Q290, QVB Post Office NSW 1230 Level 8, 1 Market Street, Sydney NSW 2000 T (02) F (02) ii IPART Electricity retail businesses performance against customer service indicators in NSW

5 Contents 1 Executive Summary Overview of IPART s findings and assessment for 2010/ Changes in the retail electricity market since our last performance report What does the rest of this paper cover? 5 2 Structure of NSW Electricity Retail Market 6 3 Disconnections for non-payment of bills Disconnections of small retail customers Disconnections of residential small retail customers on payment plans, pension rebates and more than once at the same address Disconnections of non-residential small retail customers 16 4 Use of alternative payment methods 18 5 Security deposits held 21 6 Call centre responsiveness 25 7 Customer complaints 29 Appendices 33 A Retailer customer service performance 2006/07 to 2010/11 35 B Notes and Definitions 44 Electricity retail businesses performance against customer service indicators in NSW IPART iii

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7 1 Executive Summary Each year, the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal of NSW (IPART) publishes information papers related to the performance of the energy distribution and retail businesses that serve small retail customers in this state. Our aim is to ensure that all stakeholders, including customers, have ready access to this information. This paper focuses on electricity retailers customer service performance over the past reporting year, 2010/11. Under the current regulatory regime, all electricity retailers licensed to operate in NSW are required to report annually on their performance against a series of customer service indicators. These include the number/percentage of: Customers who were disconnected for non-payment of bills in the past year (including the number where the customer was on a payment plan, was receiving a pensioner rebate, was disconnected more than once in the same year, and was subsequently reconnected in the same name at the same address). Customers using alternative payment methods. Security deposits held by retailers at 30 June and held longer than 12 months (residential customers) or 24 months (non-residential customers). Calls to the retailer s call centre that were abandoned or dropped out before being answered (and other indicators of call centre responsiveness). Customer complaints to the retailer. We also monitor complaints reported to the Energy and Water Ombudsman NSW (EWON). We monitor and assess the retailers performance against these indicators, and compare this with their performance in previous years. This analysis provides an indication of the affordability and accessibility of electricity services in NSW, and of customers satisfaction with the quality of this service. 1.1 Overview of IPART s findings and assessment for 2010/11 Our analysis of retailers performance against the customer service indicators suggest that most electricity retailers in NSW continued to provide a good standard of customer service in 2010/11. Nevertheless, we have some concerns about the performance of some retailers, and the overall affordability of electricity and the effectiveness of hardship programs in NSW. Electricity retail businesses performance against customer service indicators in NSW IPART 1

8 1.1.1 Disconnection for non-payment of bills The number of residential customers disconnected for non-payment of bills increased (17%) from 15,835 in 2009/10 to 18,651 in 2010/11. However, the number of disconnections in 2010/11 was similar to the number in 2006/07, 2007/08 and 2009/10. As a percentage of total residential customers in NSW, the rate of residential disconnections increased from 0.55% to 0.64%. This level of disconnections is consistent with the 5-year average (0.63%). For non-residential customers, the number of disconnections was 2,050 and the rate of disconnections was 0.65%, which is an increase compared to 2009/10 and previous years. Of the residential customers who were disconnected, 37.2% were on payment plans, 18.5% were receiving pensioners rebates, and 8.1% had their supply disconnected more than once at the same address during the year. Some 61.4% subsequently had their supply reconnected in the same name at the same address Use of alternative payment methods The proportion of residential customers using their electricity retailers instalment plan to pay their bills was 3.5%, which is the same as the average over the previous 4 years. However, the proportion using Centrelink s Centrepay increased to 3.9%, from 2.7% in 2008/09 and 3.1% in 2009/ Call centre responsiveness Most electricity retailers reported improved performance against the indicators of call centre responsiveness. As a result, the overall call abandonment rate dropped from 6.1% in 2009/10 to 4.8% in 2010/11. The overall percentage of calls answered by a human operator within 30 seconds also improved slightly from 62.3% in 2009/10 to 63.6% in 2010/11. However, there were 3 notable exceptions: AGL Sales, Origin Energy 1 and Red Energy all reported an increase in their call abandonment rate, and their percentage of calls answered by a human operator within 30 seconds was less than 50%. AGL and Origin Energy identified a number of issues impacting their call centre performance including operational and environmental matters, while Red Energy indicated that its customer base grew rapidly over the year, which strained its call centre capacity. 1 Note that here we are referring to Origin Energy s data for the first 9 months of 2010/11 only, before it acquired the retail businesses of Country Energy and Integral Energy (see section 1.2 for more detail). However, Figures 6.1 and 6.2 later in this report show the data for the full 12-month period, including data related to these businesses performance. 2 IPART Electricity retail businesses performance against customer service indicators in NSW

9 1.1.4 Customer complaints The percentage of customers who complained to their electricity retailer about retail supply matters increased from 0.7% in 2009/10 to 1.0% in 2010/11. The majority of these complaints related to billing (54% of all complaints in 2010/11) and to other complaints about, for example, customer service, and procedural and policy issues (32%) IPART s assessment Although electricity retailers overall performance against the customer service indicators remained fairly good, we consider that some retailers performance may benefit from increased attention to the effectiveness of their customer hardship programs and their policies and practices in relation to disconnections for nonpayment of bills. For example, we note that the increased number of disconnections for non-payment compared to last year was driven largely by an increase in disconnections by AGL and Origin Energy. AGL and Origin Energy attributed the increase to a number of considerations including, revised practices for informing disconnection decisions, increased attention to customer indebtedness, more active debt collection practices, and increased efficiency in disconnection processes. We also note that AGL, which had the highest rate of disconnection for non-payment of all electricity retailers, also had the lowest percentage of customers on payment plans. Further, we are concerned about the persistent poor performance of AGL and Origin Energy s call centres. Both retail suppliers have advised they are taking action to improve performance and we will expect to see increased responsiveness in 2011/12. In the coming year, IPART intends to undertake a review of the effectiveness of energy retailers hardship policies to identify opportunities to improve the delivery of hardship programs and reduce customer disconnections where possible. However, as we have previously indicated, we also consider that a comprehensive review of all customer assistance measures is appropriate, due to increasing affordability issues. This review should include the NSW Government s Energy Account Payment Assistance (EAPA) scheme, which provides vouchers to people experiencing financial difficulty in paying energy bills due to unexpected crisis or emergency situations. Electricity retail businesses performance against customer service indicators in NSW IPART 3

10 In our most recent annual review of regulated electricity prices, 2 we recommended that the NSW Government: 1. Take immediate action to ensure that there are sufficient EAPA vouchers to assist customers experiencing unexpected financial distress after the 1 July 2011 price changes, and to extend eligibility for the Low Income Household Rebate to Health Care Card holders who live in retirement villages and have separately metered electricity supply. 2. Undertake a comprehensive review of the package of customer assistance measures to ensure that these measures are targeted, effective and efficient. We note that the Minister for Resources and Energy has established an advisory group to review the EAPA scheme. This group is chaired by the Department of Trade & Investment, Regional Infrastructure and Services, and will advise on options to strengthen and improve the delivery of the scheme. The terms of reference require a progress report and comprehensive work plan be provided to the Minister by February We note that the Department is also reviewing eligibility for energy rebates to retirement villages and nursing homes. However, we still consider that a comprehensive review of all customer assistance measures is necessary. IPART is in a good position to assist the Government with such a review, due to our detailed analysis and our consultative processes. 1.2 Changes in the retail electricity market since our last performance report During 2010/11, the NSW Government made reforms in the state s energy sector, including selling the 3 standard retailers of electricity (EnergyAustralia, Country Energy and Integral Energy) 3 to 2 other retailers operating in NSW (TRUenergy and Origin Energy). This sale made TRUenergy and Origin Energy the 2 largest electricity retailers in the state. Together, they now supply 83% of NSW retail market. It also has implications for this paper, as TRUenergy took over EnergyAustralia s reporting obligations for the last quarter of 2010/11, and Origin Energy took over those of Country Energy and Integral Energy. Therefore, the data for EnergyAustralia, Country Energy and Integral Energy cover the first 3 quarters of the year only. The data for TRUenergy and Origin Energy include the full 4 quarters, but the data for the 4 th quarter covers their much expanded customer bases (ie, including customers previously served by the standard retailers). This has affected Origin Energy and TRUenergy s annual performance, generally by improving it 2 IPART, Changes in regulated electricity retail prices from 1 July 2011 Final Report, June Pursuant to Energy Services Corporations Amendment (Change of Name) Regulation 2011, subsequent to the sale, the 3 standard electricity retail suppliers, EnergyAustralia, Country Energy and Integral Energy, have been renamed Ausgrid, Essential Energy and Endeavour Energy respectively. 4 IPART Electricity retail businesses performance against customer service indicators in NSW

11 compared to what it would have been without including the standard retailers customers. Also during 2010/11, the Australian Government via the Ministerial Council on Energy developed a new National Energy Retail Law and National Energy Retail Rules. The Retail Law was passed in the South Australian Parliament, and received Royal Assent on 17 March The Ministerial Council on Energy agreed in December 2010 that jurisdictions would aim to commence the new law, rules and regulations on 1 July Once the Retail Law and Rules are adopted by the NSW Government, the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) will be responsible for the compliance and enforcement activities that IPART currently undertakes including the provision of information papers on energy retailers performance. 1.3 What does the rest of this paper cover? The rest of this paper discusses our findings and analysis of electricity retailers performance against the customer services indicators in more detail: Section 2 outlines the structure of the NSW electricity retail market Section 3 discusses our findings on disconnections for non-payment of bills Section 4 focuses on the use of alternative payment methods Section 5 discusses security deposits held by retailers Sections 6 and 7 focus on call centre responsiveness and customer complaints. In addition to the caveat on the data for the standard retailers and TRUenergy and Origin Energy discussed in section 1.2 above, it is important to note the following when considering the data presented below: Retailers with small market shares have generally not been included in the figures. Due to the small size of their customer base, some of their reported statistics would appear disproportionately large, when the actual number of customers affected is very low. However, data for these retailers can be found in Appendix A, which lists all reported data. Where retailers reported zero, or near zero for a customer service indicator, they have been omitted from the figures to simplify the presentation. In 2009, we commissioned a licence compliance audit of all energy retailers active in supplying small retail customers in NSW. This audit identified some reporting inaccuracies in the operating/performance statistics submitted by several licensees in previous years: Electricity retail businesses performance against customer service indicators in NSW IPART 5

12 Prior to 2008/09, Origin Energy had under-reported its customer complaints numbers as it had incorrectly defined what constitutes a complaint. Since 2009/10 Origin Energy reported complaints that were not previously captured in its reporting system, resulting in a substantial increase in reported complaints in 2009/10. AGL was unable to verify the accuracy of any performance data maintained in its legacy IT system for the period 1 July 2007 to 30 November For this reason, some of AGL s operating statistics for 2008/09 have been removed from our performance analysis. These omissions are noted in the relevant sections of this report. 2 Structure of NSW Electricity Retail Market Figures 2.1 and 2.2 show the individual retailers share of the residential and nonresidential retail market in NSW. As at 30 June 2011, the dominant retail suppliers in NSW retail electricity market are Origin Energy and TRUenergy, holding around 47% and 36% of the residential market respectively. Followed by AGL Sales at with 14%. Smaller retail suppliers have become more active in the NSW residential retail market; they made up the remaining 3% of the retail market. Australian Power and Gas, Lumo Energy and Red Energy have expanded their residential customer base in NSW. Similarly, NSW non-residential retail market is also concentrated within Origin Energy and TRUenergy, they hold market shares of around 44% and 39% respectively. AGL Sales and Powerdirect (a subsidiary of AGL) hold 16%. Smaller retail suppliers hold only 1% of the non-residential retail market. Figure 2.1 Current market structure of NSW residential electricity retail market as at 30 June 2011 ActewAGL Retail AGL Sales Australian Power and Gas Lumo Energy Momentum Energy Origin Energy Powerdirect Red Energy Sanctuary Energy TRUenergy 35.8% 0.8% 14.0% 1.2% 0.1% 0.0% 0.1% 0.6% 0.2% 47.2% 6 IPART Electricity retail businesses performance against customer service indicators in NSW

13 Figure 2.2 Current market structure of NSW non-residential electricity retail market as at 30 June % 11.4% Others AGL Sales Momentum Energy Origin Energy Powerdirect TRUenergy 39.4% 0.3% 43.6% 4.6% 3 Disconnections for non-payment of bills Disconnection of essential services is expensive for both the consumer and the provider. It creates further hardship for consumers who are already experiencing financial difficulties. In March 2010, the Electricity Supply (General) Regulation 2001 was amended to introduce additional protections for small residential retail customers who are experiencing financial difficulty. Specifically, these amendments provide that it is a condition of licence for retail suppliers of small residential retail customers that the suppliers: 1. must develop and implement a customer hardship charter to assist small retail residential customers experiencing financial difficulty to better manage their energy bills on an ongoing basis 4 and 2. must not discontinue supply to a small retail customer for failure to make payment unless in the previous 12 months the supplier has twice offered the small retail customer assistance under a payment plan operated by the supplier. 5 We consider it is important to assess the effectiveness of hardship charters. This will include assessing whether retailers hardship programs include appropriate systems and process to identify customers experiencing financial difficulty and have regard to an individual s capacity to pay when considering payment plans. We will consult retail suppliers, customers and community welfare organisations. 4 Clause 13AA, Electricity Supply (General) Regulation Clause 13A(1), Electricity Supply (General) Regulation Electricity retail businesses performance against customer service indicators in NSW IPART 7

14 The number of residential customers disconnected for non-payment of bills increased (17%) from 15,835 in 2009/10 to 18,561 in 2010/11. However, the number of disconnections in 2010/11 was similar to the number in 2006/07, 2007/08 and 2009/10. As a percentage of total residential customers in NSW, the rate of residential disconnections increased from 0.55% to 0.64%. This level of disconnections is consistent with the 5-year average (0.63%). For non-residential customers, the number of disconnections was 2,050 and the rate of disconnections was 0.65%, which is an increase compared to 2009/10 and previous years. Table 3.1 Total residential and non-residential disconnections for non-payment of electricity bills in NSW Type of Customer 2006/ / / / /11 Residential 18,339 18,153 18,168 15,835a 18,561 As a % of residential customers 0.66% 0.64% 0.64% 0.55% 0.64% Non-residential 1,398 1,398b 1, ,050 As a % of non-residential customers 0.46% 0.46% 0.54% 0.53% 0.65% a This is an adjusted figure. Electricity retailers reported 15,595 disconnections in 2009/10. However, this figure did not include any disconnections by Jackgreen (International) Pty Limited. Our adjusted figure includes an estimate of Jackgreen s residential disconnections (see text for an explanation). b Coincidentally, there were 1,398 non-residential customer disconnections reported for both years 2006/07 and 2007/ Disconnections of small retail customers Figures 3.1 and 3.2 provide data on the disconnections of customers for non-payment of bills for each retail supplier. The data for each retailer is presented as a percentage of its customer base (its disconnection rate). In 2010/11, the overall disconnection rate for residential small retail customers was 0.64% and for non-residential small retail customers was 0.65%. The comparable overall disconnection rates in gas were 1.67% and 0.91% respectively. The higher disconnection rates in gas supply may reflect its discretionary nature as an energy source; whereas electricity supply is generally regarded as an essential service in NSW. 8 IPART Electricity retail businesses performance against customer service indicators in NSW

15 Figure 3.1 Disconnections as percentage of residential customer base for nonpayment of bills in NSW - by retail supplier 1.2% 2006/ / / / / % 0.8% 0.6% 0.4% 0.2% 0.0% ActewAGL Retail AGL Sales Ausgrid Endeavour Energy Essential Energy Origin Energy Electricity Red Energy TRUenergy a Ausgrid only reported operating statistics up to 28 February 2011, the reported data represent its retail operation in the first 9-months of 2010/11. b Endeavour Energy and Essential Energy reported operating statistics for the full 12-month period up to 30 June However, majority of their customer bases were transferred to Origin Energy on 1 March c From 1 March 2011, Origin Energy reported data for customers transferred from Endeavour Energy and Essential Energy. Similarly, TRUenergy reported data for customers transferred from Ausgrid. The effect of the sale has impacted Origin Energy and TRUenergy's performance indicators where they have been calculated with reference to their expanded customer bases. d The disconnection rates for Origin Energy and TRUenergy are substantially lower than previous years due to the impact of the sale, their retail customer base increased by a much greater number relative to its disconnection numbers. In 2010/11, AGL Sales, Red Energy and Endeavour Energy reported a higher number of disconnections compared with 2009/10. Growing affordability issues in the NSW customer base and strengthened credit policies were reported as the main cause for the increase in disconnection numbers. AGL reported that revised customer account assessment processes, including a shift from considering only individual bills to inform disconnection decisions, to considering the cumulative effect of all outstanding quarterly bills, contributed to increased disconnections. AGL cited the primary drivers for this decision were the growing indebtedness of customers with multiple unpaid quarterly bills and nonresponsiveness of some customers when it attempted to contact them. In 2009/10, AGL Sales reported disconnection numbers had dropped significantly due to an expansion of its instalment payment plan program to its customers, 2010/11 saw a reversal of that trend. AGL Sales residential disconnection rate of 0.82% in 2010/11 is comparable with its 5-year average of 0.72% and above the industry average of 0.64% in 2010/11. Origin Energy reported increased attention to aged debt levels of its customers and more rigorous debt collection activity than what occurred in 2009/10 as impacting its disconnection rates. Origin Energy reported a combined residential disconnection rate of 0.30% in 2010/11, however excluding the customers of Essential Energy and Endeavour Energy, Origin Energy s residential disconnection rate climbed to 0.74%. Electricity retail businesses performance against customer service indicators in NSW IPART 9

16 Endeavour Energy reported that an increased number of customers failed to make the agreed payments under their payment plans resulting in disconnections. The disconnection rate of 0.49% is below that of the industry average of 0.64% in 2010/11. For Red Energy, the actual number of customers disconnected is low (134). However, due to the small size of its customer base its disconnection rate is high. TRUenergy s disconnection rate reduced from 1.03% in to 0.15% in 2010/11, due to a combination of lower disconnection numbers and its acquisition of Ausgrid s customer base on 1 March The disconnection statistics reported by Ausgrid related to its retail activities prior to the sale of its retail businesses to TRUenegy. The retail suppliers stated that they have observed all regulatory requirements prior to disconnecting supply. Customers were notified prior to disconnections and were offered payment plans and other assistance through customer hardship programs. 3.2 Disconnections of residential small retail customers on payment plans, pension rebates and more than once at the same address Since 2007/08, retailers have been required to provide additional statistics on disconnections affecting residential small retail customers to identify the number of these customers that were: on payment plans prior to disconnection pensioners disconnected at the same address on more than one occasion in the same year. Table 3.2 shows the total number of residential small retail customers in these 3 categories for the last 4 compliance years. 10 IPART Electricity retail businesses performance against customer service indicators in NSW

17 Table 3.2 Categories of residential small retail customers prior to disconnection Type of Customer 2007/ / / /11 Number of residential small retail customers on payment plans in NSW 93,072 94, , ,174 As a percentage of residential small retail customers in NSW 3.3% 3.3% 3.7% 3.5% Number of residential small retail customers on payment plans prior to disconnection As a percentage of residential small retail disconnections in NSW Number of residential small retail customers receiving pensioners energy rebate prior to disconnection 4,537 5,363 4,554 6, % 29.5% 28.8% 37.2% 2,642 2,659 2,245 3,428 As a percentage of residential small retail disconnections in NSW 14.6% 14.6% 14.2% 18.5% Number of residential small retail customers disconnected more than once at same address 1,792 1,442 1,229 1,495 As a percentage of residential small retail 9.9% 7.9% 7.8% 8.1% disconnections in NSW Number of residential small retail disconnections in NSW 18,153 18,168 15,835 18,561 Figure 3.2 charts the percentage of payment plan users disconnected with the total number of residential disconnections. Electricity retail businesses performance against customer service indicators in NSW IPART 11

18 Figure 3.2 NSW customers on payment plans prior to disconnection as a percentage of total residential disconnections in NSW by retail supplier 60% 2007/ / / / % 40% 30% 20% 10% 0% AGL Sales Ausgrid Endeavour Energy Essential Energy Origin Energy Electricity TRUenergy a Payment plan statistic for AGL Sales has been removed for 2008/09 due to reporting inaccuracies detected in an audit, see section 1.3 for detail. b Ausgrid only reported operating statistics up to 28 February 2011, the reported data represent its retail operation in the first 9-months of 2010/11. c Endeavour Energy and Essential Energy reported operating statistics for the full 12-month period up to 30 June However, majority of their customer bases were transferred to Origin Energy on 1 March d From 1 March 2011, Origin Energy reported data for customers transferred from Endeavour Energy and Essential Energy. Similarly, TRUenergy reported data for customers transferred from Ausgrid. The effect of the sale has impacted Origin Energy and TRUenergy's performance indicators where they have been calculated with reference to their expanded customer bases. e The disconnection rate for TRUenergy is substantially lower than previous years due to the impact of the sale, its retail customer base increased by a much greater number relative to its disconnection numbers. In 2010/11, 37.2% of residential disconnections completed in NSW related to payment plans users, compared with 28.8% in 2009/10 and 29.5% in 2008/09. The current level of payment plan users disconnected is above the 4-year average (30.1%). As outlined earlier, electricity retail suppliers attributed the higher rates of disconnection to growing affordability issues experienced by small retail customers. A subset of customers facing financial hardship accumulate a high level of debt through multiple unpaid bills and are reluctant to contact their retail supplier for assistance. Some payment plan customers failed to maintain payments and did not contact their retail supplier to discuss any options and were subsequently disconnected. Customers who are having difficulty paying their utility bills, should contact their retailer. A customer experiencing financial difficulty is able to access their retailer s hardship program which provides a number of services including flexible payment options, advice on available government concession programs and how to access financial counselling services. 12 IPART Electricity retail businesses performance against customer service indicators in NSW

19 Figure 3.2 also shows for Essential Energy, a high percentage (53.6%) of its residential customers disconnected were payment plan users in 2010/11. It has consistently reported a higher rate of payment plan usage compared with other retail suppliers, and therefore a higher percentage of its disconnected customers were payment plan users. Retail suppliers have a regulatory obligation to ensure payment plans have regard to a customer s consumption needs and capacity to pay. 6 In 2012, we intend to conduct a review of customer hardship programs. Retail suppliers must demonstrate they have appropriate systems and procedures to identify customers under financial stress and provide information on their hardship programs. Figure 3.3 Pensioners disconnected as a percentage of total residential disconnections in NSW by retail supplier 30% 2007/ / / / % 20% 15% 10% 5% 0% AGL Sales Ausgrid Endeavour Energy Essential Energy Origin Energy Electricity TRUenergy a Ausgrid only reported operating statistics up to 28 February 2011; the reported data represent its retail operation in the first 9-months of 2010/11. b Endeavour Energy and Essential Energy reported operating statistics for the full 12-month period up to 30 June However, majority of their customer bases were transferred to Origin Energy on 1 March c From 1 March 2011, Origin Energy reported data for customers transferred from Endeavour Energy and Essential Energy. Similarly, TRUenergy reported data for customers transferred from Ausgrid. The effect of the sale has impacted Origin Energy and TRUenergy's performance indicators where they have been calculated with reference to their expanded customer bases. Figure 3.3 charts the number of customers receiving pensioner s energy rebate prior to disconnection as a percentage of the total number of residential disconnections. In 2010/11, 18.5% of residential disconnections completed in NSW were pensioners, compared with 14.2% in 2009/10 and 14.6% in 2008/09. The current level of pensioners disconnected is above the 4-year average (15.5%). Most electricity retail suppliers reported a higher number of pensioners being disconnected in 2010/11. 6 Clause 13A(2)(c) Electricity Supply (General) Regulation Electricity retail businesses performance against customer service indicators in NSW IPART 13

20 Essential Energy reported a marked increase in its residential disconnections involving pensioners, which accounted for 28% of its total disconnections. Essential Energy stated this is directly related to the increased number of customers being eligible for government rebates due to extension of eligibility criteria in 2010/11. Essential Energy advised it has a comprehensive customer hardship program and is committed to providing additional support and engagement with customers in financial hardships. Figure 3.4 Percentage of residential customers disconnected more than once in same year in NSW by retail supplier 25% 2007/ / / / % 15% 10% 5% 0% AGL Sales Ausgrid Endeavour Energy Essential Energy Origin Energy Electricity TRUenergy a Ausgrid only reported operating statistics up to 28 February 2011; the reported data represent its retail operation in the first 9-months of 2010/11. b Endeavour Energy and Essential Energy reported operating statistics for the full 12-month period up to 30 June However, majority of their customer bases were transferred to Origin Energy on 1 March c From 1 March 2011, Origin Energy reported data for customers transferred from Endeavour Energy and Essential Energy. Similarly, TRUenergy reported data for customers transferred from Ausgrid. The effect of the sale has impacted Origin Energy and TRUenergy's performance indicators where they have been calculated with reference to their expanded customer bases. Figure 3.4 compares the percentage of residential customers disconnected more than once at the same address in 2010/11. Overall, 8.1% of residential customers disconnected were disconnected on more than one occasion, compared with 7.8% in 2009/10 and 7.9% in 2008/09. We note that multiple disconnections for residential small retail customers are slightly above the 4-year average (8.4%). Origin Energy was responsible for 26% of total multiple disconnections at the same address in 2010/11. This result is in part due to a combined increase in multiple disconnections across Endeavour Energy and Essential Energy in the last quarter of 2010/ IPART Electricity retail businesses performance against customer service indicators in NSW

21 Figure 3.5 Percentage of NSW residential customers disconnected for non-payment of bills whose supply was reconnected at the same address by retail supplier 90% 80% 2006/ / / / / % 60% 50% 40% 30% 20% 10% 0% AGL Sales Ausgrid Endeavour Energy Essential Energy Origin Energy Electricity TRUenergy a Ausgrid only reported operating statistics up to 28 February 2011; the reported data represent its retail operation in the first 9-months of 2010/11. b Endeavour Energy and Essential Energy reported operating statistics for the full 12-month period up to 30 June However, majority of their customer bases were transferred to Origin Energy on 1 March c From 1 March 2011, Origin Energy reported data for customers transferred from Endeavour Energy and Essential Energy. Similarly, TRUenergy reported data for customers transferred from Ausgrid. The effect of the sale has impacted Origin Energy and TRUenergy's performance indicators where they have been calculated with reference to their expanded customer bases. In 2010/11, about 61.4% of disconnected residential customers were reconnected at the same address, compared with 53.9% in 2009/10 and 45.7% in 2008/09. The number of electricity supply reconnections increased by 34% compared to 2009/10. This is the most significant rise in reconnections reported in the past 5 reporting period. AGL Sales (46%) and Origin Energy (50%) reported the largest increase in reconnections in 2010/11. These retailers explained that the increase in disconnections and reconnections is partly attributed to changes in its credit management policies in Both AGL and Origin Energy have strengthened their account management and collection process. AGL stated that often customers did not respond to its attempts to contact them prior to disconnection. AGL reported it is seeking to improve its customer engagement process to better identify and engage with customers experiencing the early signs of financial hardship. AGL advised its customer service teams are given additional training to proactively identify customers showing payment stress earlier in the credit cycle. AGL will continue to promote its customer hardship program Staying Connected through improved service and increased advice on payment plan options. Electricity retail businesses performance against customer service indicators in NSW IPART 15

22 Disconnection should only be exercised as a last resort to avoid subsequent reconnection which is both costly and inefficient for both retail suppliers and customers concerned. As discussed in section 1.3, the EAPA scheme operates to provide short term relief to people experiencing financial stress. The Government is currently reviewing the EAPA scheme. Feedback from community welfare groups indicated a heightened demand for EAPA vouchers in recent times. We recommend that the NSW Government undertake a comprehensive review of customer assistance measures to ensure that their delivery is targeted, effective and efficient. 3.3 Disconnections of non-residential small retail customers Figure 3.6 Percentage of non-residential disconnections for non-payment of bills in NSW by retail supplier 1.2% 2006/ / / / / % 0.8% 0.6% 0.4% 0.2% 0.0% AGL Sales Ausgrid Endeavour Energy Essential Energy Origin Energy Electricity Powerdirect Pty Ltd TRUenergy a Ausgrid only reported operating statistics up to 28 February 2011; the reported data represent its retail operation in the first 9-months of 2010/11. b Endeavour Energy and Essential Energy reported operating statistics for the full 12-month period up to 30 June However, majority of their customer bases were transferred to Origin Energy on 1 March c From 1 March 2011, Origin Energy reported data for customers transferred from Endeavour Energy and Essential Energy. Similarly, TRUenergy reported data for customers transferred from Ausgrid. The effect of the sale has impacted Origin Energy and TRUenergy's performance indicators where they have been calculated with reference to their expanded customer bases. d The disconnection rates for Origin Energy and TRUenergy are lower due to the impact of the sale, their retail customer bases increased by a much greater number relative to their disconnection numbers. The non-residential disconnection rate in 2010/11 has increased to 0.65%. The overall number of non-residential disconnections (2,050) remained low as a percentage of total NSW non-residential customers. 16 IPART Electricity retail businesses performance against customer service indicators in NSW

23 Figure 3.7 Percentage of NSW non-residential customers disconnected for nonpayment of bills whose supply was reconnected at the same address by retail supplier 60% 2006/ / / / / % 40% 30% 20% 10% 0% AGL Sales Ausgrid Endeavour Energy Essential Energy Origin Energy Powerdirect TRUenergy a Ausgrid only reported operating statistics up to 28 February 2011; the reported data represent its retail operation in the first 9-months of 2010/11. b Endeavour Energy and Essential Energy reported operating statistics for the full 12-month period up to 30 June However, majority of their customer bases were transferred to Origin Energy on 1 March c from 1 March 2011, Origin Energy reported data for customers transferred from Endeavour Energy and Essential Energy. Similarly, TRUenergy reported data for customers transferred from Ausgrid. The effect of the sale has impacted Origin Energy and TRUenergy's performance indicators where they have been calculated with reference to their expanded customer bases. Figure 3.7 shows the percentage of NSW non-residential customers disconnected for non-payment of bills whose supply was subsequently reconnected at the same address. The overall number of non-residential customers disconnected and then reconnected at the same address reduced to 37.3% in 2010/11 from 44.3% in 2009/10. It is largely consistent with the 5-year average (39.8%). Electricity retail businesses performance against customer service indicators in NSW IPART 17

24 4 Use of alternative payment methods Payment plans 7 make it possible for customers to pay their outstanding accounts over time, taking into account their consumption needs and capacity to pay. They enable customers to continue to receive supply by managing their energy bills better while at the same time assisting retail suppliers in reducing their disconnection rate. Retailers in NSW include a range of measures in their hardship programs for customers who are having difficulty paying their electricity bills, including providing the options for paying arrears in instalments and extending the due date on bills, suspending any disconnection action while customers participate in hardship programs, or referring them to community welfare organisations or financial counsellors to provide further assistance. Figure 4.1 compares the percentage of customers on payment plans with the number of residential small retail customers for each retail supplier. Figure 4.1 Percentage of NSW residential small retail customers using payment plans as at 30 June by retail supplier 12% 2006/ / / / / % 8% 6% 4% 2% 0% ActewAGL Retail AGL Sales Ausgrid Australian Power and Gas Essential Energy Endeavour Energy Origin Energy Red Energy TRUenergy a Ausgrid only reported operating statistics up to 28 February 2011; the reported data represent its retail operation in the first 9-months of 2010/11. b Endeavour Energy and Essential Energy reported operating statistics for the full 12-month period up to 30 June However, majority of their customer bases were transferred to Origin Energy on 1 March c From 1 March 2011, Origin Energy reported data for customers transferred from Endeavour Energy and Essential Energy. Similarly, TRUenergy reported data for customers transferred from Ausgrid. The effect of the sale has impacted Origin Energy and TRUenergy's performance indicators where they have been calculated with reference to their expanded customer bases. d As stated above, payment plan usage rates for Origin Energy and TRUenergy are lower due to the impact of the sale, their retail customer bases increased by a much greater number relative to the number of payment plans offered. 7 Payment plan is an arrangement between a retailer and a customer for the customer to pay arrears and to continue usage on their account according to an agreed payment schedule and capacity to pay. 18 IPART Electricity retail businesses performance against customer service indicators in NSW

25 In 2010/11, there were 101,174 residential customers managing their electricity accounts using payment plans in NSW, representing 3.5% of all NSW residential small retail customers. This is a slight increase from the 5-year average (3.4%). Notwithstanding, the actual number of customers using payment plan has declined overall. Historically, Essential Energy has offered the highest number of payment plans in the industry. Prior to the sale of its retail business to Origin Energy, around 10.7% of Essential Energy s customers were using payment plans to manage their arrears. Origin Energy s (exclusive of Endeavour Energy and Essential Energy) payment plan usage rate (5.8%) remained largely unchanged compared with last year. With the exception of ActewAGL Retail (5.5%), Australian Power and Gas (0.9%) and Red Energy (3.0%), the percentage of payment plan in use on a per customer basis has dropped for most electricity retail suppliers in NSW. The early identification and response to a customer experiencing financial hardship, including regard to capacity to pay and knowledge of available government concessions, is important to providing targeted support. We will be reviewing the effectiveness of hardship measures in 2011/12. Figure 4.2 shows the percentage of residential small retail customers using Centrelink s Centrepay bill payment facility for each retailer. Electricity retail businesses performance against customer service indicators in NSW IPART 19

26 Figure 4.2 Percentage of NSW residential small retail customers using Centrelink s Centrepay by retail supplier 8% 7% 2006/ / / / /2011 6% 5% 4% 3% 2% 1% 0% ActewAGL Retail Australian Power and Gas AGL Sales Ausgrid Endeavour Energy Essential Energy Origin Energy TRUenergy a Ausgrid only reported operating statistics up to 28 February 2011; the reported data represent its retail operation in the first 9-months of 2010/11. b Endeavour Energy and Essential Energy reported operating statistics for the full 12-month period up to 30 June However, majority of their customer bases were transferred to Origin Energy on 1 March c From 1 March 2011, Origin Energy reported data for customers transferred from Endeavour Energy and Essential Energy. Similarly, TRUenergy reported data for customers transferred from Ausgrid. The effect of the sale has impacted Origin Energy and TRUenergy's performance indicators where they have been calculated with reference to their expanded customer bases. d Centrepay usage data reported by Essential Energy has been removed for 2006/07 and 2007/08 due to reporting errors. It had incorrectly counted the number of Centrepay transactions rather than the number of individual Centrepay users for those years. Similarly, data supplied by AGL Sales for 2007/08 has been removed due to inaccuracies in its reporting. Centrepay is a free service that allows Centrelink clients to pay for essential living expenses such as electricity, gas, water and rent through a direct debit bill payment facility before their Centrelink payments are deposited into their bank account. This payment method assists Centrelink customers to manage and budget for their bills and thus avoid disconnection. Overall, the number of Centrelink s Centrepay users in NSW increased by 27% in 2010/11, a smaller increase when compared with NSW gas retail customers (81%). As a percentage of the NSW residential small retail customer base, the use of Centrelink s Centrepay has increased to 3.9% in 2010/11, compared with 3.1% in 2009/10 and 2.7% in 2008/09. In 2010/11, TRUenergy reported the highest level of Centrepay usage at 4.6% of its residential electricity customer base, which included former Ausgrid customer base. It should be noted that the figure supplied is a combined number of small retail customers using Centrepay across both its electricity and gas businesses. 8 8 Ausgrid advised that it does not have the reporting capability to segregate the number of Centrepay users between its electricity and gas customer base. It was estimated that the majority of its Centrepay users were electricity-only or dual-fuel customers. 20 IPART Electricity retail businesses performance against customer service indicators in NSW

27 With the exception of AGL Sales (1.4%), electricity retail suppliers have increased the percentage of Centrepay users relative to their residential customer base. Historically, AGL Sales has recorded lower rates of Centrepay usage compared to industry average. 5 Security deposits held IPART s current retail pricing determination provides certain rights with respect to security deposits for small retail customers that are supplied under standard form customer supply contracts. 9 A small retail customer who is required to pay a security deposit, and who pays in the form of cash, cheque or credit card, is eligible to have that deposit refunded when they have completed: a) for residential small retail customers, on-time payment of bills for 12 months from the date of the first bill, or b) for business small retail customers, on-time payment of bills for 24 months from the date of the first bill and the maintenance of a satisfactory credit rating in the reasonable opinion of the standard retail supplier. Figure 5.1 shows the percentage of NSW small retail residential customers who had security deposits held by their retailer on 30 June 2011 compared with previous years IPART, NSW electricity regulated retail tariffs and charges 2007 to 2010, June 2007, Determination No. 1, These indicators do not reflect the total number of security deposits collected to secure connection or reconnection to supply within the reporting period as they do not include those deposits held during the period but released prior to 30 June. Electricity retail businesses performance against customer service indicators in NSW IPART 21

28 Figure 5.1 Percentage of NSW residential customers who had security deposits held by their retail supplier on 30 June % 8.0% 2006/ / / / / % 6.0% 5.0% 4.0% 3.0% 2.0% 1.0% 0.0% AGL Sales Ausgrid Endeavour Energy Essential Energy Origin Energy TRUenergy a Ausgrid only reported operating statistics up to 28 February 2011; the reported data represent its retail operation in the first 9-months of 2010/11. b Endeavour Energy and Essential Energy reported operating statistics for the full 12-month period up to 30 June However, majority of their customer bases were transferred to Origin Energy on 1 March c From 1 March 2011, Origin Energy reported data for customers transferred from Endeavour Energy and Essential Energy. Similarly, TRUenergy reported data for customers transferred from Ausgrid. The effect of the sale has transferred the security deposits previously held by Ausgrid, Endeavour Energy and Essential Energy to Origin Energy and TRUenergy. In 2010/11, around 3.3% of all residential electricity customers in NSW had security deposits held by their retail suppliers. The number of deposits collected is 17% lower compared with last year. TRUenergy and Origin Energy were the only retail suppliers who collected security deposits from their customers. 11 Since 2009, AGL ceased collecting security deposits from its residential customers and has re-credited all remaining security deposits to customers accounts as at 30 June On 1 March 2011, TRUenergy and Origin Energy acquired customers with security deposits previously lodged with Ausgrid, Endeavour Energy and Essential Energy. Prior to 2010/11, TRUenergy and Origin Energy did not collect any security deposits from their retail customers. 22 IPART Electricity retail businesses performance against customer service indicators in NSW

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