The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: I am pleased to report to the house on progress to address community concerns around the access to timely metering services in electricity. On 1 December 2017, as part of the national Power of Choice reforms agreed by the previous government, responsibility for metering services switched to energy retailers. This meant that a role previously undertaken by SA Power Networks (SAPN) would now be undertaken by a customer’s retailer.
This reform process was overseen by the Australian Energy Market Commission. While some steps were undertaken by the market commission and the market operator to provide for a smooth transition of metering providers, the result of the change has been that many customers have faced lengthy and unacceptable delays in obtaining new or replacement meters since this date.
This is not a reform process initiated or overseen by the current government. It was a long time in coming and could have and should have been appropriately planned for by the electricity industry as a whole. These issues around timely delivery of services have occurred since the reforms commenced over six months ago.
I was concerned about the cases brought to my attention of new home owners delayed from occupying their homes, new businesses paying rent while unable to trade and customers waiting weeks for a new or replacement meter, particularly in regional South Australia. My concern was confirmed by advice from our local authorities, the Essential Services Commission and the Energy and Water Ombudsman about increased levels of complaints, and of inadequate services.
I want to thank my colleagues who have raised their constituents’ concerns and assisted their constituents by their representations to energy retailers and by providing constituents with information about how to approach the Energy and Water Ombudsman of SA. Federal minister Frydenberg has proposed amendments to the national rules to define time lines for small customers receiving new electricity meters and to ensure they are informed of their rights and dispute resolution options. However, the rule change process may take some time, and I expect to see improvements in services to South Australians before that time.
I instructed my office to work with my agency, ESCOSA and the Energy and Water Ombudsman, to seek improved outcomes for consumers. ESCOSA and EWOSA have met with and written to energy retailers and SAPN to encourage them to take immediate steps to improve customer outcomes pending the changes to the national rules. This resulted in an agreement amongst the sector to work together to improve customer outcomes.
The agreement includes measures that will result in better coordination of information between SAPN and retailers to improve information flow to the customer and achieve a faster meter exchange process. There is also an expectation that industry participants will ensure they have appropriate resources to deal with customer complaints and issue resolution. I welcome the work of the sector with ESCOSA and EWOSA and will continue to monitor progress against the industry’s commitments, with the aim of improved customer outcomes.
The level of disruption has been unacceptable, and insufficient action was taken in South Australia to protect South Australian consumers during the transition to the national framework. I urge consumers who are experiencing difficulties in resolving metering matters with their supplier to approach the Energy and Water Ombudsman for assistance. I will continue to monitor this matter closely with ESCOSA and EWOSA to see whether these steps are sufficient to improve the provision of this essential service.