'Many people struggle' - Government put electricity sector 'on notice' after review

Increasing competition, helping consumers get a better deal and evening out the playing field for smaller retailers are all part of the Government's plan to get New Zealanders a better price for their power. 

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The Government agreed to 20 recommendations from an electricity price review released today. Source: 1 NEWS

The response to the electricity price review was released today, with the Government agreeing to 20 of its recommendations. 

"Energy hardship emerged as one of the most pressing problems we uncovered, more than 100,000 households are in this situation. Worryingly, children live in many of these homes," review chair Miriam Dean said. 

Energy Minister Megan Woods said they were putting the industry "on notice". 

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The price review makes 32 recommendations about how to make things fairer, more transparent and sustainable. Source: 1 NEWS

"Too many people are paying higher bills than they need to and many people struggle with the cost of power."

She said New Zealand's electricity market was "dominated" by a few large companies that generate and sell electricity.

"It can be too hard for small and independent retailers to compete and survive, meaning fewer choices for consumers and less innovation in the market.  We are changing the market to level the playing field and boost competition."

Ms Woods said they were asking power companies to stop prompt payment discount schemes, that essentially put late payment penalties on some customers. 

The review recommended prohibiting the practice of prompt payment, while still allowing reasonable late payment fees. However, the Government decided to write to the industry with the expectation of scrapping prompt payment schemes, and only regulate if the industry does not abide. 

Meridian Energy pulled the plug on the practice last year. Ms Woods said it put $5 million back into the pockets of consumers, with the review estimating that could rise to $45m if other companies followed suit. 

In September, 2018, a Government investigation found those who could not afford to pay their bills on time were being charged up to 26 per cent more for their power.

The changes the Government is making are: requiring big power companies to sell wholesale electricity at affordable rates and making the companies more transparent, a pilot scheme to help customers shop around for better deals and stopping companies from using 'win-backs' to stop customers from switching between providers. 

The review also recommended setting mandatory minimum standards to protect vulnerable and medically dependent consumers and to encourage bulk deals for people living in social housing. 

The review began in April 2018, with Ms Dean saying she hoped the report would translate into "a fairer and more consumer-focused market, more affordable prices and a sector more prepared for the changes ahead". 

It stated residential electricity prices had risen 48 per cent since 2000.