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Simplifying complex markets: Victoria’s recent energy reforms

A guest post from Consumer Policy Research Centre’s Karl Barratt.

I have been working with households experiencing vulnerability and struggling with their energy bills since 2006. Over this time, I have seen how energy usage and bills cause stress and anxiety, leaving many households feeling like they will never get on top of it all. I have seen people paralysed by the overwhelming amount of information – unable to work out where to start. I have also seen people take on every energy tip imaginable, no matter how small, with the result that they are incredibly stressed, worn down and unable to enjoy the comfort of their home.

Information about energy should not work in this way. With funding from the Victorian Government and AusNet Services, we were given the opportunity to help change the way that energy is communicated, delivering energy information in a simple, engaging way.

The recent launch of our energy information and training project was the culmination of 12 months of research and design to produce materials to support households having trouble with their energy bills.

Before developing any materials, we first sought to understand the energy issues facing community workers (a trusted source of information for households experiencing vulnerability) and their clients. We commenced the project in September 2018 with a series of face-to-face interviews, an online survey and three co-design workshops with over 115 community workers and their clients.

The research, unsurprisingly, revealed that energy continues to be a major issue, ranking alongside housing as the most pressing issue impacting upon households. The desire for targeted energy information was clear, with research participants telling us that they wanted information on:

  • Energy concessions
  • Cheaper energy plans
  • How to save energy
  • What to do if you had trouble paying your bill

 

In keeping with our previous experience, we learnt that energy continues to be confusing.  Energy was perceived as always changing, information resources had failed to keep pace, and the end result was uncertainty about where to go to get independent, accurate and up-to-date information.

We used the research insights to build a framework to guide us in the development of the materials, including:

  • Project principles to ensure we delivered on what we had heard from the research participants, including keeping the information simple and clear, and presenting information in a positive way that motivated people to take action.
  • Establishing a set of goals for every resource to guide what information to include and what to leave out.

In developing the materials, we partnered with several organisations – each with their own strength – to collectively build a better overall package for consumers.

During the research and design phase, the Victorian Government and the Essential Service Commission were introducing several significant reforms to improve consumer outcomes in the Victorian retail energy market. We worked closely with both to ensure the materials we produced were accurate and reflected the new protections and offers available in the market.

We worked closely with our design partner, Ellis Jones, to package the materials in a way that would appeal to community workers and their clients. Our partnership with AusNet Services helped expand the breadth of the consumer-facing materials that we were able to produce through the program. It’s all about delivering the right information, at the right time, through the right channel.

Our training partner, CISVic, was instrumental in engaging the emergency relief network to roll out a pilot of our community worker training program which, based on the four topics that emerged through the research, simplifies energy for busy community workers. By 1 November 2019, over 600 emergency relief workers will be trained and equipped to provide meaningful energy support to households experiencing vulnerability.

The factsheets, posters, flow charts and videos created through the project are all now available to download or share via the new Energy Info Hub website. Printed material will be distributed to vulnerable households through the CISVic emergency relief network.

Energy shouldn’t be complicated. It’s my hope that through additional protections and the delivery of this support we can collectively increase fairness, trust and confidence in the market. Ultimately, that’s what we need if we’re going to face the big challenges that lie ahead.

For further information, please contact Karl Barratt.

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