Electricity: What Kiwis fear, and how UDL can help
The Consumer Advocacy Council recently completed its first sentiment survey of small business and residential electricity consumers, gauging public opinion on the biggest electricity issues facing consumers. Following this release, UDL has put together the following summary outlining some of the biggest issues consumers face, and how we can you help manage them.
Over two-thirds of respondents expressed concerns that the price of electricity may become too high for some consumers in the future, with 52% believing they may be amongst those priced out. Over the last year, 42% of consumers believe it’s become more difficult to pay their electricity bill.
How we can help!
We cannot investigate complaints solely about the price of electricity. Price is decided via contractual agreement between provider and consumer, which cannot be challenged within our jurisdiction. However, we can check the provider has given you good information about the price, and we can check your bills are correct. This includes issues around billing periods, meter readings, and forms of payment.
If you believe you’ve received an incorrect charge and can’t settle with your provider, UDL may be able to help.
Somewhat presciently, the survey included a question on the importance of ensuring New Zealand’s electricity system is resilient to extreme weather events to avoid electricity outages. Unsurprisingly, 74% of consumers surveyed responded with a 7 or higher, signalling ‘important’. Similarly, 57% of consumer respondents expressed concerns that the existing network was not resilient enough.
How we can help!
While UDL offers support to anyone impacted by severe weather, our discussions with utility providers have highlighted the unprecedented nature of the recent conditions and the immense work happening across the industry to deal with outages. We encourage anyone impacted by outages due to severe weather now or in the future to first contact their provider.
If the situation is urgent, such as an outage to those medically dependent on electricity, and attempts to contact your provider fail, please contact UDL on 0800 22 33 40 or email us on email@example.com. We will use our own channels to contact providers and ensure the necessary care is immediate provided.
Quality of Service
The survey found that 72% of New Zealanders are satisfied with their current provider, while only 4% are actively dissatisfied. A variety of metrics were used to define satisfaction, including regularity of outages, existence of special deals (e.g., free power at certain time), and quality of customer service. Dissatisfied consumers faced issues such as inconsistent billing, poor customer service, and regular outages.
How we can help!
In cases where consumers face quality of service issues, UDL may be able to help. The Consumer Guarantees Act requires that electricity providers supply electricity that is safe, reliable, and consistent. The guarantee says this safety, reliability, and consistency must be what a reasonable consumer would expect supply to be in that place.
This guarantee can be breached through consistent surges, damage to appliances, or regular outages. However, these issues may be considered reasonable depending on the location of the property, the level of control the provider had in avoiding these issues, and more. If you’ve experience any consistent problems with your electricity and believe it may be unreasonable, contact UDL and we’ll see what we can do.
If you have a complaint to lodge against your utility provider, please get in contact with UDL on 0800 22 33 40 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
UDL is a proud sponsor of Downstream\23, on at the Lower Hutt Events Centre on 28-29 March.
Downstream\23 is the premier event for the Aotearoa energy industry. It brings together international influencers and local representatives. It is a forum where insights are shared about the sector's current opportunities and where innovative strategies are born leading towards a new energy future.
The Electricity Authority (the Authority) and Utilities Disputes Ltd (UDL) recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), formalising an even closer working relationship for the two organisations based on mutual assistance and cooperation.
The Authority and Utilities Disputes share a common focus on improving the consumer experience in the electricity sector.
The new MoU will help to streamline communication, cooperation, and information sharing, where appropriate, between the two agencies.
The Authority has a particular responsibility to safeguard the long-term benefits of consumers, and also recently published new Consumer Care Guidelines. The guidelines educate retailers and consumers about their responsibilities and what consumers can expect of their retailer if they are in hardship or are medically dependent.
You can read more about the new MoU and the Consumer Care Guidelines on the EA website.
You can read the MOU here.
Utilities Disputes has launched a new partnership with the Tūhono Collective to provide a tikanga-based Māori dispute resolution framework for resolving disputes using Māori beliefs, principles, values and practices that derive from traditional knowledge (mātauranga Māori).
UDL is committed to delivering a dispute resolution process that meets the needs of all those who seek our help to resolve a complaint. Please contact us to further discuss this and how we can assist you.
The Consumer Advocacy Council announced a joint project with Consumer New Zealand to investigate how bills are presented, with the aim of encouraging the industry to adopt a standard approach. Read on.
Esther Taunton writing for Stuff takes you through how much money those power-saving tips really save...
The Utilities Disputes |Tautohetohe Whaipainga (UDL) Board has appointed Neil Mallon as its new Commissioner| Toihau and Chief Executive Officer|Tumu Whakarae. Neil will take up the role on 11 December 2023 when Mary Ollivier departs. He is currently the Deputy Commissioner having joined UDL in September 2020.
“Neil is an excellent appointment to this role with his wide-ranging experience, knowledge of the sector and ability to lead by example. The Board is pleased that this will enable a seamless transition and ongoing stability for the vital work that UDL does,” said the Hon Heather Roy, UDL Board Chair.
Neil is a lawyer with extensive experience working with consumer complaints, regulating professionals, including banking industry complaints and fraud investigations.
He has managed prosecutions and appeals relating to the conduct of barristers in the UK and led the complaints and prosecutions team at the Teaching Council of Aotearoa before spending eight years with the New Zealand Law Society, including time as its General Manager of all regulatory functions. Neil has extensive experience in managing a legislative based complaints process and has drafted rules of conduct and client care for lawyers.
Neil is honoured to have the opportunity to lead a great organisation like UDL. “In our current environment there are more and more people who need to know about the services we offer. I am excited about our future at UDL and what we can achieve for all our stakeholders. Our strategy is simple - we are here to help, and we are doing that across Aotearoa in innovative ways.”
“On behalf of the Board, I want to acknowledge the huge contribution Mary Ollivier has made since January 2020,” says Chair Heather Roy. “Mary's impressive legal background and her ability to build strong relationships has been instrumental in improving trust and strengthening relationships between consumers and their utility providers. She has ably led UDL's dispute resolution services to include water and telecommunications. Mary has spearheaded UDL’s Te Ao Māori journey incorporating tikanga into everyday practices at UDL. We wish her all the best.”
Established in 2002, UDL provides a free, fair and independent dispute resolution service for electricity, gas, and water complaints as well as disputes about access to shared property for broadband installations. UDL also operates a voluntary and independent Telecommunications Complaint Scheme where it can consider complaints against companies that choose to be members of the scheme.
A recruitment process for the role of Deputy Commissioner will begin soon.
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Tautohetohe Whaipainga | Utilities Disputes (UDL) introduced a new telecommunications scheme, which became effective in April 2023. This telco scheme allows UDL to consider broadband (internet) disputes as part of a bundled service.
With the addition of broadband (internet) to a portfolio of gas, electricity, water, and broadband installation, UDL can sort complaints on bundled deals. Many providers offer discounted deals to consumers that contain gas, electricity, and broadband. These bundles are increasingly popular, however create difficulties in resolving complex disputes.
Prior to the introduction of our new telco scheme, issues related to bundled deals would require a complainant to talk with more than one dispute resolution service. This new telco scheme enables UDL to consider all aspects, with scheme member providers, providing a seamless service for consumers and providers.
“UDL is delighted to be offering an additional avenue for complainants to voice their concerns,” said Mary Ollivier, UDL Commissioner. “More and more people are moving into bundled utility deals, so it makes sense for us to trial new and innovative ways to support these consumers.”
This scheme is the fourth operated by UDL, joining the Energy Complaints Scheme (Electricity and Gas), Water Complaints Scheme, and the Broadband Shared Property Access Disputes Scheme. It will provide broadband consumers of member energy companies with an independent, free, and fair dispute resolution service. When a consumer cannot resolve their broadband complaint with their provider, UDL will work with both parties to try and sort it. Contact is the first broadband provider to join the scheme.
Contact’s Chief Retail Officer Matt Bolton says: “Contact is pleased to be able to offer UDLs resolution service for all our utilities services. UDL provides a one-stop shop that makes it simple and easy for our customers.”
Diana Wolken, Diana@udl.co.nz, 0212880552
More information about the scheme is available on UDL’s website: www.udl.co.nz.
The Board of Tautohetohe Whaipainga|Utilities Disputes (UDL) announces Commissioner and CEO Mary Ollivier will leave the organisation in December.
“When Mary was appointed early in 2020, she immediately had to manage the organisation through the COVID pandemic, and a building evacuation due to earthquake strengthening issues” says Board Chair Hon Heather Roy. “She did this expertly, at the same time leading UDL's dispute resolution services to include water and telecommunications.”
“Mary's impressive legal background allied with her ability to build strong relationships has been instrumental in improving trust and strengthening relationships between consumers and their utility providers.
“She has spearheaded UDL’s Te Ao Māori journey incorporating tikanga into everyday practices at UDL.
“The Board acknowledges and thanks Mary for the huge contribution she has made to UDL and wishes her well in her next endeavours.”
“My decision to leave UDL was not an easy one and made with mixed emotions; however, the time is right for me as I take up a new challenge," says Mary Ollivier.
“I am grateful for the amazing past four years. I want to pay tribute to the inspirational team at UDL, both past and present, including our fantastic Board, Advisory Committees, and stakeholders.
“UDL does incredible work in a dispute resolution environment that is not easy. Yet, it is incredibly rewarding, and vital that consumers have independent assistance with their utilities concerns.
“Being part of the innovative energy and utilities sectors; and increasing consumer focus is a great place to be. The future is bright.”
The Board will begin a recruitment process for Commissioner and CEO soon.
Utilities Disputes’ | Tautohetohe Whaipainga (UDL) latest annual report shows that consumer demand for UDL’s services continues to increase.
UDL is a free and independent dispute resolution service resolving consumer complaints about electricity, gas, water, and broadband installation on shared property.
UDL heard more from consumers in 2021/2022, being contacted 17,409 times, up from 11,161 the year before, and a significant increase of 56%. This figure includes consumers who contacted UDL to request guidance or information about their electricity, gas or water company, or a broadband installation on shared property, as well as those with complaints.
The increased contacts can in part be attributed to increasing efforts by the sector to inform consumers there is a free and independent service available to them if a matter cannot be resolved with their company.
Complaints about electricity and gas make up 93% of all the complaints UDL receives. The most common complaints are about billing, customer service, meters, disconnections, and supply.
“The 56% increase in consumer contact is not unexpected, given the work UDL is doing to increase its awareness and the current environment which is impacting all sectors,” said Mary Ollivier, UDL Commissioner. “Our staff continue to step up to manage the increase and work hard to support consumers to resolve their issues as soon as they are raised. In addition, energy companies are always looking for ways to improve their customer service and our work accompanies this. We are making a positive difference.”
One of the important services UDL provides for consumers is a complaint summary which is a concise, written version of a consumer’s complaint. UDL staff identify the key issues of the complaint including the consumer’s view on what would resolve the issues. This is then sent to the company, improving the ability for the consumer and their utility company to resolve the complaint quickly and effectively. It is also an excellent way to assist consumers who are unsure or less confident of how to effectively raise an issue with their utility company.
Board Chair, Hon Heather Roy, says; “Our continuing focus on increasing the visibility of UDL is gaining traction. We listen to consumers so know what is important to them. This allows us to provide quality services that meet the needs of New Zealanders and the companies who provide utility services. We aim to stay connected to consumers so we can continue to help and resolve their issues and have a positive impact on their lives.”
UDL welcomes Ruth Smithers to the UDL Board.
Ruth is the Chief Executive for FinCap and joins us as an experienced leader and manager in the not-for-profit and government sectors in health and social services organisations. Ruth was previously Deputy Chief Executive at Tui Ora, a large iwi-based health and social services provider in Taranaki. Ruth has also run her own management consultancy and serves on a number of boards bringing governance expertise to UDL.
“We are delighted that Ruth is joining our Board,” says Hon Heather Roy, Chair of the UDL Board. “Ruth’s understanding of the issues facing the people we work with day in and day out, especially Māori and Pacific people, will be invaluable in how we continue to deliver our services to those who need our support.”
The Board has also decided to appoint a future director for a period of 12 months. Corey Hebberd is General Manager at Te Rūnanga a Rangitāne o Wairau Trust. Corey has whakapapa connections to Te Ātiawa, Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Apa, and Ngāti Kuia, as well as Rangitāne. “Corey is passionate about caring for communities, which is at the heart of who we want to help. We hope to learn as much from him as he will learn from us,” says Hon Heather Roy. After eight years with the organisation Major Campbell Roberts is stepping down. “Campbell was appointed to the current Board in 2017 during a time of change and growth having previously served as a consumer representative on UDL’s former Board - The Office of the Electricity and Gas Complaints Commissioner’ - from 2013,” says Hon Heather Roy.
“Campbell’s passion and extensive knowledge working in social justice and social policy and working with community organisations and those at the margins of society have been of enormous benefit to UDL. We owe him a debt of gratitude and wish him well,” says Mary Ollivier, UDL’s Commissioner.
Major Campbell Roberts is the founding director of the Salvation Army social policy and parliamentary unit. Currently a Director of Kāinga Ora, the Salvation Army Social Housing, Community Finance, and a member of the New Zealand Parole Board. He has held a range of governance roles with New Zealand Housing Foundation, Robson Hanan Trust, Community Housing Aotearoa, and Habitat for Humanity. Campbell has held ministerial appointments in the areas of housing, child poverty, and social policy. Campbell is a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.
Ruth Smithers – https://www.fincap.org.nz/fincap-welcomes-new-chief-executive-ruth-smithers/
Corey Hebberd – https://www.rangitane.org.nz/
Utilities Disputes Limited (UDL) has introduced a new research grant open to applicants who have an interest in dispute resolution and/or the utilities sector. The grant is worth up to $25,000 and may be shared by one or more applicants. It aims to support research in a field relevant to UDL and its stakeholders and encourage diversity and leadership in dispute resolution.
Mary Ollivier, UDL’s Commissioner, says: “This is a fantastic opportunity to generate high quality research in an area impacting on dispute resolution and utilities. Disputes take time, energy, and money. They affect individuals and communities as well as organisations and government. Most utilities are essential services. Better access and swift resolution of disputes improve our communities and our economy. Good research supports better outcomes in dispute resolution.”
Applicants will be asked to highlight the benefits of their proposed research project. Our selection panel will review the overall quality of the application, including potential benefits and impact for UDL, the stakeholders UDL supports, our end users, and the community of Aotearoa New Zealand.
An example of a relevant topic is the impact of utility services for the most vulnerable members of our community, and ways of addressing and responding to the hardship issues we can all encounter. This would complement the work many in the sector do in this space.
Find out more
Please contact Markus Frey at email@example.com for a word document application form or to find out more about this exciting opportunity.
UDL wants to assist research that will make a positive change in the challenging environment that is disputes resolution.
To apply for the grant visit UDL for more information.
The closing date is Wednesday 26 January 2022.
UDL is committed to the principles of diversity and inclusion and to recognising the bicultural foundations of Aotearoa New Zealand.
UDL welcomes and supports applications from all gender identities, ages, ethnicities, sexual orientations, disabilities, and religions.
Utilities Disputes (UDL) is a free and independent dispute resolution service that resolves consumer complaints about electricity, gas, water, and broadband installation on shared property. It has just released its annual report for 2021 which shows the cases it receives from consumers are continuing to increase.
In the past year UDL received a total of 11,161 customer contacts, up from 7,815 last year. This increase has been since the onset of Covid-19 and has remained higher than in previous years. Customer contacts include when a consumer contacts UDL to request guidance or information in relation to their electricity, gas or water company, or a broadband installation on shared property. Higher customer contacts can reflect increasing efforts by the sector to inform consumers there is a free and independent service available to them if a matter cannot be resolved.
Customer contacts may also include complaints. Complaints were three percent (3%) higher than in the previous year.
Complaints about electricity and gas make up 89% of all complaints UDL receives. The most common areas complained about are billing, customer service, meters, disconnections, and supply.
“The 43% increase in cases is not unexpected, given the events of last year and the work UDL is doing to increase its awareness,” said Mary Ollivier, UDL Commissioner. “Our staff have responded well to manage the increase, working to help consumers resolve their issues as soon as they are raised. Providers are consistently improving their customer service and our work complements this. UDL prides itself on its ability to make a positive difference by supporting both consumers and providers to resolve issues.”
Board Chair, Hon Heather Roy, says; “One of our key areas of focus has been to increase the visibility of UDL while making sure we continue to provide high quality services and leadership. It’s therefore really pleasing to see such a significant increase in contacts. It shows more people know about UDL and more organisations know to refer consumers to us. With Covid-19 now a part of everyday life we want to make sure that consumers stay connected.”
We appreciate that as inflation rises and the cost of living rises many households in Aotearoa New Zealand are facing hardship.
The information below is designed to assist you understand why you may be seeing higher bills from your power company and what you can do.
Utilities Disputes – who are we?
Utilities Disputes – Tautohetohe Whaipainga (UDL) is a free and independent dispute resolution service in the energy market.
While we cannot look at a complaint that is solely about the price of your energy use we can ensure a power company has:
- done what it should to help you identify the right plan for your household
- explained their charges adequately, including price increases, so you know what you are paying for
- provided the right information to you and followed the Consumer Care Guidelines the Electricity Authority has in place.
We can work with you and your power company to resolve any complaint. If that is not successful we can issue a decision.
What is the removal of low fixed tariffs?
The overall cost of your electricity is broken down into two main parts.
- you pay for the actual electricity you use, and;
- a fee for the upkeep of the power grid that delivers electricity from the power station into your home – this fee is called a daily fixed charge.
The government has approved the removal of a low daily fixed charge sometimes called the low fixed tariff which was available to low users of power. From 1 April 2022 this is being phased out over five years The phase-out period of five years is to help limit the impact on consumers’ electricity bills.
The government’s view is that the low fixed tariffs, originally intended to help those in need, are no longer beneficial. Around 68% of all electricity users are now eligible for the low fixed tariff meaning fewer are paying the standard fixed rate to cover the costs of maintaining the grid.
Low user plans may come with a higher rate for actual power use. One side effect of this is that some people underheat their homes to save on power bills which can harm their health and well-being.
Government believes that most households (around 60%) including low-income earners will be better off from this change as power companies may offer pricing plans that can help manage peak periods of electricity use and avoid costly network upgrades keeping overall prices lower for consumers.
What is low use?
Low use is defined as 8000 kWh per year in the North Island or 9000 kWh per year in the South Island.
What impact will there be from the removal of low fixed tariffs?
Analysis of the impact on households suggests about 60 per cent of all households - about 970,000 households - are expected to have lower power bills during the phase-out. But around 40 per cent - about 690,000 households - are expected to face higher power bills.
While the government expects all households to benefit long-term from the changes, there is uncertainty over the short-term impact during the phase out, including how retailers will structure their pricing plans over the next five years. Because of this, the Government will conduct a mid-point review of the phase out sometime in late 2023.
Are all power companies removing the low fixed tariff?
Not all power companies are removing the tariff immediately. Your power company will let you know if they are making any changes. Some power companies that are may voluntarily offer some form of discounted daily fixed charge for low use households.
Government has secured an industry commitment to develop and fund a $5 million power credits scheme to support low-income, low-use households who are struggling to pay their power bills through the phase-out. Any such households should contact their power company for information and support. Participating power companies may be able to offer a power credit towards their power bill once the scheme begins.
How much are we talking about?
The low fixed tariff is currently 30c a day (plus GST). Power companies are able to increase this over a five-year period. Some have chosen not to at this stage.
Those power companies that are phasing out the low fixed tariff over time may apply the first increase up to 60c a day (plus GST). This may continue to increase by 30c a day (plus GST) each year for 5 years until 2027.
Annually the increase will be from the current $110 per year (plus GST) to $220 (plus GST) increasing each year to $657 (plus GST) by 2027.
What other fees are changing?
It is common for electricity rates to change just once every 12 months. At the same time as the beginning of the removal of the low fixed tariff, some power companies are increasing their variable rates as often happens around the first few months of the year.
Some lines companies are also increasing their variable charges. These will be passed on to you by your power company.
If you are on a fixed rate plan you may notice no change until your plan comes to an end.
I receive gas from my power company – is this going up too?
If you are connected to gas you may also experience an increase in your fixed daily rate as well as an increase in the variable rate.
If I can’t pay my bill what can I do?
First talk with your power company.
Power companies are required to follow the Electricity Authority’s voluntary consumer care guidelines and work with their customers facing payment difficulties to help them access and afford a constant supply of electricity to meet their home needs.
If I want to know more or cannot pay my bill where do I go?
You can also compare the prices and services of different retailers. New Zealand has a number of third-party methods for consumers to estimate energy usage and compare prices such as Powerswitch.
Power Switch is also available for energy customers to compare their pricing plans with other power companies https://www.powerswitch.org.nz/.
There are many national agencies that may be able to assist you. Some of these are listed below:
- Warmer Kiwi Homes programme provides 80% of the costs of insulation and an energy efficient heat pump for eligible homeowners.
- WINZ may be able to help you with an urgent power, gas or water bill, or the costs for heating if you have no other way to pay.You don't have to be on a benefit to qualify for this help. You may have to pay the money back depending on your situation https://www.workandincome.govt.nz/eligibility/living-expenses/heating-and-power-bills.html.
- The Winter Energy payment is available to people receiving superannuation or other benefits to help with energy bills overwinter. More information about this is available from work and income New Zealand https://www.workandincome.govt.nz/products/a-z-benefits/winter-energy-payment.html.
- For free budgeting advice support and online resources see www.govt.nz – family and whānau financial help for your family.
- For face-to-face help with budgeting, debt and money problems you can contact a budgeting service. You can look for one in your area, on the MoneyTalks website or the Family Services directory – MoneyTalks provides advice by email, text, live chat and phone (0800 345 123).
- For help with debt and money problems you can get help with Christians Against Poverty (CAP). You can call CAP on 0508 227 111.
- If you can't find one, your local Citizen Advice Bureau (CAB) can help you find a budgeting service. Some CABs also run regular budgeting clinics.
- You might find joining a local MoneyMates group These are support groups for people wanting to improve their budgeting skills.
- You can also get budgeting and debt management information and advice on Sorted.
- Find some more tools here https://goodshepherd.org.nz/your-tools/.