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COTA Energy Advocacy Project – Ensuring older Australians have a strong voice

Pictured back left to right: Queensland Energy and Water Ombudsman Jane Pires, Judith Chapman, Gary Sacre (EWOQ), Robyn Robinson (Project Leader) Pictured front left to right: Roz Young, Helen Mura

The Australian Energy Market is transforming and it is essential that older consumers are able to participate and share in the benefits offered by new markets, products and services. This will only occur if their information needs are adequately met, and their specific requirements and characteristics are identified and addressed in the design and development of the new market arrangements, products and services.

Particular areas of focus for older consumers include energy affordability, energy efficiency, tariff designs, energy concession schemes, consumer protection regimes, communication of information using appropriate language and media, and technology solutions that are tailored for consumers who are not tech-savvy.

Through COTA’s consumer work, both locally and nationally, we are aware that there is currently an unmet need for greater representation of the needs, experiences and views of older people to the energy industry.  Fortunately, there are increasing opportunities for this to happen.

The COTA Energy Advocacy Project involves COTA organisations in each of the National Energy Market jurisdictions. It aims to contribute to a better deal for older energy consumers by developing and supporting a knowledgeable group of energy advocates who can represent the views, experiences and needs of older Australians in formal consumer forums. The national project was funded by a grant provided by Energy Consumers Australia.

On 12 July, COTA Australia hosted the project’s first national workshop in Canberra with thirteen participants, representing NSW, ACT, QLD, VIC, SA, Tasmania and COTA Australia.

Facilitated by Project Leader Robyn Robinson, energy industry expert and member of the COTA Queensland Board, participants took the first steps in a year-long journey of support and learning as energy advocates.

“The purpose of the COTA Energy Advocacy Project is to equip participants with the necessary knowledge and skills to enable them to confidently engage in systemic advocacy for older energy consumers across the National Energy Market. This will be achieved by training and supporting COTA volunteers and staff to provide representation on Consumer Reference Groups of energy corporations, government consultative bodies, and community sector forums” said Robyn.

On Friday 20 October, a group of Queensland advocates continued their journey with a facilitated workshop focusing on understanding the retail electricity and gas markets, consumer rights and current issues for consumers. They were addressed by the Energy and Water Ombudsman Queensland (EWOQ) Jane Pires, and Gary Sacre, EWOQ’s Regional Manager – South Queensland.  Jane and Gary outlined EWOQ’s role, and provided insights into the types of issues that are brought to the attention of EWOQ. Jane commented that affordability, billing and credit-related matters are high priorities for the organisation.

Armed with the information presented at the workshops, and with the ongoing support of a national network of COTA energy advocates, our Queensland representatives will continue their journey ensuring older Australians have a strong voice, achieving change.

More information about EWOQ

EWOQ is a free, fair and independent dispute resolution service if you are unable to resolve a complaint with your electricity, gas or water supplier. They will work directly with you and your supplier to investigate and resolve complaints.

The EWOQ functions which are legislated under the Energy and Water Ombudsman Act 2006 are:

  • receive and investigate energy issues in Queensland and water issues in south east Queensland
  • manage dispute resolution between customers and energy and water entities
  • promote the services of EWOQ
  • identify systemic energy and water issues.

More information about the Energy and Water Ombudsman can be found at www.ewoq.com.au or by phoning 1800 662 837.

If energy affordability is a concern for you

Speak with your energy retailer. Electricity and gas retailers are required to support their customers experiencing financial difficulty due to hardship.

Retailers are required to support consumers if they are struggling to pay their bills. For example:

  • retailers must develop hardship policies aimed at helping consumers to manage their bills on an ongoing basis if they are experiencing financial difficulty due to hardship
  • hardship policies must have strategies to proactively identify consumers experiencing financial difficulty
  • retailers must tell consumers about concessions and rebates in disconnection warning notices.

There are a number of rebates and schemes you may be eligible to access www.qld.gov.au/community/cost-of-living-support/energy-concessions

For more information about financial counselling www.fcaq.com.au or you can contact the National Debt Helpline  on 1800 007 007.

For energy saving tips cotaqld.org.au/programs_events/peer-eductation-program/switched-on-seniors/how-to-reduce-electricity-usage-to-save-on-your-bills/

For information on how to shop around for a better electricity deal cotaqld.org.au/programs_events/peer-eductation-program/switched-on-seniors/how-to-shop-around-for-a-better-electricity-deal/

For information on energy efficient appliances www.energyrating.gov.au

If you are concerned about having your services disconnected

Speak with your retailer. If you are not happy with the outcome phone EWOQ on 1800 662 837.  There are measures they can assist you with to keep you connected, particularly if you have essential medical equipment or medications that require refrigeration.

 

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