The Electricity Authority should make the Consumer Care Guidelines for electricity retailers mandatory, according to Energy poverty researcher Dr Kimberley O’Sullivan and He Kāinga Oranga Housing and Health Research Programme at the University of Otago Wellington.
“The Electricity Authority’s first report assessing compliance with the Consumer Care Guidelines out yesterday shows the voluntary approach isn’t working. We need basic standards of care to be followed to protect health and avoid potential fatalities,” says Dr O’Sullivan.
In the latest Briefing published by the Public Health Communication Centre, Dr O’Sullivan and colleagues outline the role of the Electricity Authority which is the regulatory body for electricity in Aotearoa tasked with enforcing compliance. The Briefing also looks at the intent of the guidelines which are presently voluntary.
Dr O’Sullivan says if the guidelines were mandatory, consumers would have more confidence that the basic rules were being followed by retailers. “This new report shows that over half of consumers are not covered by basic rules around disconnection and almost a quarter of Medically Dependent Consumers are not protected.”
The Consumer Care Guidelines were brought in in 2021. They replaced previous guidelines that had been put into place to assist vulnerable and medically dependent consumers or people who critically rely on electricity to support their health. Those earlier guidelines were brought in after the tragic death of Mrs Folole Muliaga in 2007. She used an electrically powered oxygen machine at home and died after the electricity at her home was disconnected due to an unpaid bill.
The Consumer Care Guidelines are designed to avoid disconnection for unpaid bills according to Dr O’Sullivan. “The guidelines also say that Medically Dependent Consumers are not to be disconnected due to non-payment of debt, but this is not currently mandatory.”
Electricity is an essential service for keeping healthy at home. “Electricity is one of the six basic amenities that we agree are required for housing in Aotearoa. Yet StatsNZ data shows that on Census night in 2018, 2.3% of children aged up to four years old were in homes that had no electricity at all.”
Dr O’Sullivan says evidence shows that electricity is an essential service for protecting public health in Aotearoa. “A basic standard of care by retailers should not be voluntary. We urge the Electricity Authority to make the Consumer Care Guidelines mandatory with minimal delay to protect health at home this winter.”