Interview with Hon Jacqui Dean

13 February 2017

Hon. Jacqui Dean

Utilities Disputes interviewed Hon Jacqui Dean. Jacqui is the Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Minister for Small Business, Associate Minister for ACC, and Associate Minister of Local Government. We asked her about the importance of ombudsman services and opportunities for improved consumer and utilities provider engagement.

What is the importance of ombudsman services such as Utilities Disputes in serving and educating consumers?

Ombudsman schemes operating in various markets, such as the Energy Scheme provided by Utilities Disputes in the electricity and gas sectors, make an important contribution in ensuring that the markets function effectively and efficiently.

Importantly, an ombudsman scheme can help to promote an environment where consumers are able to more confidently carry out transactions in the marketplace. Having more confident consumers can, in turn, help drive a more competitive economy.

Utilities Disputes is a good example of the contribution that ombudsman schemes can make to the market economy.

I’m aware that Utilities Disputes has gained a reputation for helping to resolve consumer complaints against electricity and gas providers – and for providing redress to consumers where appropriate – in an independent, fair, well-considered and effective way. Since 2001 for electricity and 2005 for gas, Utilities Disputes has handled more than 50,000 consumer complaints.

But I think it’s also important to acknowledge that the value of ombudsmen schemes is not a one-sided affair, in favour of consumers only.

Taking part in dispute resolution schemes can also benefit the businesses that are members of the schemes – in the case of Utilities Disputes, electricity and gas providers.

In particular, it incentivises those businesses to up their game or to make sure they stay at the top of their game by proactively setting out to meet consumers’ expectations, including through innovations in services and business practices. It may be a cliché, but having contented customers whose expectations are being met is ultimately good for business

Where are the opportunities for improved consumer and provider engagement?

To be successful, electricity providers will need to improve the quality of their engagement and relationship with consumers in order to understand how they can meet their changing needs through new technologies and innovative business models. Those providers that manage to do this best are most likely to meet the needs of their customers.

But I also think there is an opportunity for Utilities Disputes to work on fostering improved engagement between consumers and providers by ensuring that as many consumers as possible are made aware they can access an independent dispute resolution service if they are unable to satisfactorily settle their complaints directly with providers.