Media release

Nanette Moreau describes systemic issues in the energy industry

09 March 2017

At the 8-March 2017 Downstream conference for the energy industry, Nanette Moreau, Commissioner of Utilities Disputes (formerly the Office of the Electricity and Gas Complaints Commissioner) presented the causes of systemic issues that she believes create a lack of consumer trust in the industry.

"Big changes, ownership gaps and miscommunication are the principal causes of systemic issues in our industry," said Nanette.

Based on her 20 year experience in dispute resolution and Utilities Disputes’ 14-year history of handling over 50,000 consumer complaints, she stated that the failure to work together as an industry to address consumer concerns is an issue for the entire sector.

"Big change such as new billing systems are often not well explained in advance. We know from a recent survey by Consumer NZ that 63% of New Zealanders are concerned about the price of electricity and gas. In fact, it is their top concern, even though Statistics NZ reports that electricity is less than 3% of weekly spend," Nanette said.

She added that year after year, approximately 47% of all complaints received by Utilities Disputes are about pricing.

"Miscommunication occurs when not everyone on the customer service desk provides the same information or when salespeople become too aggressive. We receive complaints, and the trust factor is lowered," she said.

"Ownership gaps can occur between distributors and retailers, leading to customer confusion about what to do to solve a problem."

Nanette noted that most energy providers do provide good customer service, but there may be temporary issues. When these issues occur -- across retailers and distributors, different geographical areas, different problem types -- the net effect is consumer concern about the industry.

In Consumer NZ’s January 2017 Cost of Living survey, 25% of New Zealanders rated energy companies as "untrustworthy."

"To overcome the impact of big changes, ownership gaps and miscommunication, new approaches are needed," she said.

Nanette suggested that energy providers continue their efforts towards customer engagement, become more involved in primary and college education, and support the formation of a new consumer group focused on interacting with the energy sector.

"We in New Zealand are the world’s leaders in renewable energy. I believe systemic issues are something we can manage and solve," she concluded.