By Gavin Evans
May 1 (BusinessDesk) - Access to power consumers’ historic billing data is to be streamlined to speed up the process and lower costs for all parties.
The Electricity Authority says industry rule changes in 2016 intended to make it easier for householders and firms to access and share their billing data have not been as effective as hoped.
It now plans a series of changes to speed up that process, including setting out the information required when a customer’s agent - such as a budget advisor - seeks data from a retailer, and prohibiting retailers from requiring additional information or specifying the form those request must take.
It also plans to develop a new automated tool to communicate the authorisation of a customer’s agent to their retailer.
The authority says that process was left with the industry to resolve, which has resulted in a piecemeal approach with retailers and agents developing their own systems. The lack of clear guidance on what constitutes a proper information request has also caused “significant friction” between agents and retailers.
“A limited number of retailers have developed systems and processes that require significant intervention and action by the customer and their agent, while others deal with authorisations on an ad-hoc basis,” the EA says in a 25-page discussion paper.
“This piecemeal approach has resulted in the duplication of processes and effort, and it has given rise to unnecessary transactions costs and stymied innovation and greater consumer participation in the industry.”
New Zealand has one of the most active and competitive retail electricity markets in the world, but the authority is concerned that more people aren’t benefiting from the lower prices and new services some firms are offering.
While about 20 percent of customers change supplier annually, it is estimated that more than a fifth of households have never switched in the 16 years that records have been kept. Access to historic usage data will also be important for consumers making decisions about new technologies – such as solar or home energy management systems.
The authority says the changes proposed offer a potential “quick win” to help improve consumer access to services.
“The proposals set out in this consultation paper will aid consumers to make more informed choices by making it easier to share their data with businesses that they trust to help them get a better deal or use electricity more wisely.
“For vulnerable customers this may include sharing their data and getting advice from social agencies and not-for-profits - Consumer NZ, PowerSwitch or the Salvation Army.”