By Anne Wardell, Compliance Quarter.
The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) has released new Retail Pricing Information Guidelines (the new Guidelines) which commence on 31 August 2018.
Although the new Guidelines commence on 31 August 2018, not all of the new requirements will commence on that date. The AER is of the view that the changes will take time to implement and has therefore introduced a series of stages for implementation. The important dates for the stage implementation are:
Source: new Guidelines at pp 5-6
A number of key changes have been introduced in the new Guidelines including the replacement of the Energy Price Fact Sheet.
The key changes to the Guidelines include:
- replacing the requirement for retailers to provide an Energy Price Fact Sheet with a requirement that each energy plan have two separate documents – a Basic Plan Information Document and a Detailed Plan Information Document
- changes relating to display of plan information on websites, in advertising and marketing material
- new requirements for the use of clearer and simpler language, and
- clarifying the definition of generally available plans.
Plan information documents
Energy Price Fact Sheets will be replaced by Plan information documents which must be provided to the Energy Made Easy website. The plan documents will be automatically generated in the retailer secure area of Energy Made Easy after the relevant data and information have been submitted. The plans must be submitted within two business days of the plan being offered to customers.
Each plan will have a unique reference code or plan ID which is generated by Energy Made Easy. The Key Plan information which must be provided is contained in ss 31 to 64 and covers such information as price, discounts, incentives, fees and eligibility requirements.
There are two types of plan information documents which retailers must have; the first is the Basic Plan Information Document (BPID) and the second is the Detailed Plan Information Document (DPID). Retailers are required to have a BPID for every plan, including restricted plans (cl 79 of the new Guidelines).
What are generally available plans?
One of the aims of the new Guidelines was to provide some clarity on the definition of generally available plans. The Glossary provides the following:
‘Generally available plan means any plan that is available to any customer in the relevant distribution zone unless it is classified as a restricted plan’.
Clearer and simpler language
Clauses 65 to 69 of the new Guidelines contain certain language requirements which include prohibited and required terms:
Source: new Guidelines at pp 13-14
Display of plan information
There are different requirements for the display of the plan information depending upon whether it is a generally available plan ( cl 81-82) or a restricted plan ( cl 83-89). There are also requirements for online sign up (cl 90-92), in-person marketing activity (cl 93-94) and other marketing activities such as telemarketing or internet sales channels (cl 95-98). The in-person marketing activity and other marketing requirements will apply whether the retailer conducts the marketing themselves or uses a third party vendor.
Other display requirements are:
- publication requirements on mass media and social media (cl 100-102);
- price comparison websites and third party agents (cl 103); and
- a requirement to refer to plan ID in communication with customers (cl 104-105.
Clauses 106 to 110 deal with the requirements for describing discounts in advertising and marketing and provide the following example:
‘For example, these requirements would be satisfied with an electricity advertisement with the claim:
15% guaranteed discount off usage charges’ and, in fine print ‘Discount is off our standing offer plan charges. This information is available at www.sunenergy.com.au/standingplancharges’.
Further information is available on the AER website at Retail Pricing Information Guidelines 2018.
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