FAQ for electricity retailers

Our frequently asked questions provide guidance for electricity retailers.

What additional requirements have applied since 1 July 2020?

Since 1 July 2020, retailers must comply with amendments made to the Code. The amendments were made primarily to extend the application of the price cap to solar and Time of Use (ToU) standing offers for residential customers, and to solar standing offers for small business customers. There are also additional requirements for retailers related to record keeping and communicating with small customers.

The ACCC has updated its guideline to provide further clarity on the Code and to reflect additional requirements of the Code following amendments that came into effect from 1 July 2020.

See: Guide to the Electricity Retail Code

What reference price information am I required to provide?

The Code sets out requirements for communicating price information to customers.

  • The following must be clearly and conspicuously stated:
    • the difference between the unconditional price and the reference price, stated as a percentage of the reference price (comparison percentage)
    • for each proportional conditional discount, the difference between the conditional price and unconditional price, stated as a percentage of the relevant reference price
    • the lowest possible price of the offer (inclusive of all conditional discounts mentioned in the advertisement, publication or offer)
    • conditions for all conditional discounts
    • the distribution region and type of small customer.
  • A conditional discount should not be stated as the main element of the advertisement, publication or offer.

When should I provide reference price information to customers?

The Code does not apply to general advertising but does apply where a retailer communicates the offered prices to a small customer. A retailer communicates the offered prices to a small customer if they:

  • advertise or publish the offered prices, or
  • offer to supply electricity at those offered prices, or
  • give a customer written notice of a change to the retailer’s offered prices and the offered prices are the prices that apply after that change.

A customer’s bill is not a ‘communication’ for these purposes, nor is a message informing a customer of an overpayment or underpayment.

Mass marketing price communications

The communication of prices can occur in any of the following forms, but is not limited to:

  • newspaper or magazine
  • television
  • radio
  • web-based or online
  • social media
  • billboards
  • 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.

Individual customer price communications

The communication of prices to small customers also occurs where a retailer notifies a customer of a change in prices. This can occur when a retailer sends a tariff change notice or when a retailer notifies a customer of a change in or end to their benefit period as required by the NERR.

Can I provide additional price information when marketing an offer?

Yes. The Code also does not limit retailers from communicating additional details relating to price and discounts, provided that retailers comply with the Code. However, we expect retailers to consider whether additional detail will cause confusion to consumers or dilute the information required by the Code.

Retailers should also be aware of their Australian Consumer Law obligations and should make sure that the advertisement, publication or offer does not breach the prohibitions on false representations and misleading or deceptive conduct under the Australian Consumer Law.

Can I use one disclosure statement as used in the Guide examples when there are multiple offers on the same page?

In communicating the information required by the Code, the customer type and distribution region must be clearly and conspicuously stated. How this and other information required by the Code is presented will be a matter for retailers to consider. Where there are multiple offers side by side with a single disclosure relevant to all offers, it should be clear that this disclosure relates to all offers.

Retailers should also be aware of their Australian Consumer Law obligations and should make sure that the advertisement, publication or offer does not breach the prohibitions on false representations and misleading or deceptive conduct under the Australian Consumer Law.

Do I still need to provide reference price information when making a personalised offer – including as part of a ‘customer journey’ on a website?

Yes. Communication under the Code refers to any advertisement, publication or offer. This includes personalised offers made over the phone or face to face as well as online ‘customer journeys’ where customers provide information to personalise the offer results on a website.

A retailer is not required to state the lowest possible price of an offer if it presents a customer with an estimated annual price based on their individual circumstances. A retailer could do this having regard to:

  • the rate at which electricity was supplied to the small customer in the past, or
  • the timing or pattern of that past supply.

Where a retailer makes an individual offer to a customer based on the customer’s actual usage, the retailer must also state the offer and any conditional discounts of the offer in relation to the reference price and explain that this is based on an assumed usage (model annual usage) for a representative customer. This information enables the customer to assess offers across retailers.

How do I provide reference price information in mediums other than print advertising?

The Guide is not intended to provide examples of compliant advertising across all mediums. The ability to advertise in a range of formats on a price-basis in compliance with the Code will be a matter for retailers to consider.

The Code does not apply to general advertising, such as brand advertising. However, if retailers refer to specific prices or discounts of an offer, they must comply with the requirements of the Code.

The Code does not limit retailers from communicating additional details relating to price and discounts, provided that retailers comply with the Code. However, we expect retailers to consider whether additional detail will cause confusion to consumers or dilute the information required by the Code.

Retailers should also be aware of their Australian Consumer Law obligations and should make sure that the advertisement, publication or offer does not breach the prohibitions on false representations and misleading or deceptive conduct under the Australian Consumer Law.

How will the ACCC enforce the Code?

The ACCC has discretion about the matters we investigate and how we resolve concerns. Where we identify possible non-compliance with the Code we will take into account the surrounding circumstances.

In line with the principles set out in our Compliance and Enforcement Policy, we will escalate matters for an enforcement approach where further action is warranted. Competition and consumer issues arising from the pricing and selling of essential services, with a focus on energy (such as electricity) and telecommunications, are one of our compliance and enforcement priorities for 2021.

The ACCC is more likely to take enforcement action where:

  • retailers take inadequate steps towards compliance with the Code
  • retailers fail to respond to our concerns or choose not to take steps to mitigate compliance failures
  • the issues go beyond a failure to comply with Code requirements and involve conduct that is likely to mislead or deceive consumers.

If a retailer believes they may be in breach of the Code, they should:

  • consider seeking legal advice
  • engage with the ACCC
  • take steps to comply with the Code
  • review how the possible breach came about
  • put in place an effective compliance program to avoid future recurrences.

Subscription plans

‘Subscription plans’ is a term used to describe electricity supply arrangements where a small customer pays a set dollar amount each month (or some other regular period) for all of their electricity consumption up to a specified threshold. It is not a legal definition.

Whether the ACCC characterises a plan as a ‘subscription plan’ will depend on the particular product offering.

The ACCC encourages retailers who plan to offer subscription plans or other niche products to contact the ACCC to discuss the communication of these types of offers further.

More information

Electricity Retail Code

Guide to the Electricity Retail Code

ACCC role in energy