Monday, 05 August 2019 03:35

Authorisation proposed for New Energy Tech consumer code: ACCC Featured

By
ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard

Australia’s competition regulator, the ACCC, is proposing to authorise a new consumer code for retailers of products such as solar generation systems, energy storage systems, electrical vehicle charging and other emerging energy products and services.

The proposed New Energy Tech Consumer Code sets minimum standards of good practice and consumer protection and will apply to all aspects of customers’ interactions with participating retailers, including marketing; finance and payments; warranties and complaints handling processes.

“Products like solar panels or battery storage involve significant financial outlays for households,” Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.

“This Code aims to give consumers more protections and more information to help them make informed purchases.”

The applicants for authorisation are the Australian Energy Council, Clean Energy Council, Smart Energy Council and Energy Consumer Australia. Membership of the Code would be voluntary.

The proposed new Code comes after - in August 2017 - the COAG Energy Council wrote to industry to collaborate with Energy Consumers Australia to develop an industry code for behind-the-meter (BTM) products and services to address a range of issues in the market.

This led to the formation of the BTM Working Group, which later consulted with various stakeholders and developed the Consumer Code.

Under the proposed code, signatories must comply with obligations, including that they:

  • avoid high pressure sales tactics
  • ensure their advertising is clear and accurate
  • educate consumers about their rights
  • provide clear information about product performance and maintenance
  • take extra steps to protect vulnerable consumers, and
  • implement effective complaints handling processes.

Because the Code imposes conditions on the sales practices of competing companies, and includes sanctions for non-compliance, the code’s developers sought ACCC authorisation to ensure they were not breaching competition laws.

Rickard says the ACCC welcomes steps to ensure that credit products are provided responsibly.

As presently drafted, signatories to the Code can use only licensed credit providers and certain regulated credit products when offering third-party finance – and the Code would effectively prevent signatories from offering finance through ‘buy now pay later’ (BNPL) arrangements.

Rickard said the ACCC recognises that while BNPL arrangements do not meet the proposed requirements of the Code, some consumers may value these products in cases where they are provided responsibly.

The ACCC says it is seeking further submissions on whether it is feasible to achieve the consumer protection objectives of the Code while also providing for appropriately regulated BNPL finance to be offered to consumers who choose to use it.

And the ACCC also says it will take into account any further submissions before releasing a final determination, expected in September or October this year.

The draft determination proposes to grant authorisation for five years.

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Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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