About the code
Purpose of the code
The Electricity Retail Code is a mandatory industry code which came into force on 1 July 2019. Amendments were made in July 2020.
The purpose of the code is to help consumers compare ‘apples with apples’ when comparing energy plans.
The code puts in place recommendations made in the ACCC’s Retail Electricity Pricing Inquiry.
What the code covers
The code sets how prices and discounts must be advertised, published and offered.
It requires electricity retailers to present energy price information in a clear and easily understood way. This simplifies comparisons between offers and helps consumers to make better choices.
The code also sets a limit on how much standing offer (or default offer) customers are charged. This standing offer limit is used as a common reference price to compare other offers against.
Monitoring the effects of the code
Through the Electricity market monitoring inquiry 2018-25, the ACCC is reporting on the broader effects of the Electricity Retail Code on standing and market offers and on advertising practices.
Compliance and enforcement checks
We do regular compliance checks to ensure compliance with the code.
If we think an electricity retailer has breached the code, we can investigate.
Who the electricity code applies to
The code applies to all retailers that supply electricity to households and small usage businesses in:
- New South Wales
- South Australia
- south-east Queensland.
Consumers in other parts of Australia have different protections set by their state and territory governments.
What retailers must do under the code
Electricity retailers must meet several rules under the code.
See our detailed guide to help electricity retailers understand their responsibilities under the code.
Retailer's standing offer prices
Consumers who do not shop around for better electricity offers may be on plans called standing offers.
The code set out rules for electricity retailers’ standing offer prices.
The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) uses the average electricity use in different regions to set a maximum annual bill amount for standing offers. Retailers cannot charge standing offer prices at a rate that would mean a consumer using the average amount of electricity would be billed above this maximum annual bill amount.
The Australian Energy Regulator sets this price on 1 July every year under its default market offer determination.
Communicating the offered price to customers
We want consumers to get the best price for their electricity.
See our guidance for consumers on how to find the best electricity deal.
The code sets out rules for electricity retailers communicating price information to customers. This includes rules on displaying the reference price, conditional discounts, and an estimated annual cost.
The code only applies where a retailer communicates prices or discounts on offers to a residential or small usage customer.
A retailer is communicating offered prices when they:
- advertise or publish the offered prices
- offer to supply electricity at those offered prices
- give a customer written notice of a change to the retailer’s offered prices - the offered price applies after that change.
A retailer is not communicating offered prices when they:
- issue a customer’s bill
- send a message telling a customer of an overpayment or underpayment.
Mass marketing price communications
Electricity retailers may choose to advertise in a range of formats including:
- newspaper or magazine
- web-based or online
- social media
- transit advertising such as on buses, taxis or bicycles
- face to face
- door-to-door sales
- offers over the phone
- direct mail, catalogues and leaflets.
Electricity retailers must ensure that any advertising that is on a price-basis meets the requirements of the code.
The code does not stop retailers from communicating extra details about price and discounts. Retailers should consider if extra detail will:
- cause confusion to consumers
- dilute the information required in the code.
Communication of non-traditional plans
Some retailers offer products that differ from traditional offer pricing. These include:
- subscription plans – a customer with small usage pays a set dollar amount each month for all their electricity use up to a certain level
- wholesale pass-through offers – a type of flexible tariff where the wholesale cost part of electricity usage can vary in each charge period.
Retailers should talk to the ACCC to discuss how they communicate these types of offers.
Consumer law and retailers
Electricity retailers should be aware of their Australian Consumer Law obligations.
Retailers must make sure that they do not mislead consumers through any advertisement, publication or offer.
If a retailer believes they may be in breach of their obligations, they should:
- consider seeking legal advice
- talk to the ACCC
- take steps to follow the code
- review how the possible breach happened
- put in place an effective compliance program to avoid future recurrences.
Australian Energy Regulator/ACCC retailer compliance bulletin
The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) and ACCC have collaborated to produce a joint compliance bulletin for retailers on communicating price changes. The bulletin gives retailers an overview of their obligations under the National Energy Retail Law, Australian Consumer Law and the Electricity Retail Code.
Monitoring and enforcing the code
We may take enforcement action where:
- retailers fail to follow the code
- retailers fail to respond to our concerns or choose not to take steps to fix compliance failures
- the issues go beyond a failure to follow code requirements and involve behaviour that is likely to mislead or deceive consumers.
One of the ACCC's compliance and enforcement priorities is the pricing and selling of essential service, with a focus on energy.