Energy advocates from UCWB have been working with SA Power Networks for many years, to increase their ability to take into account the needs of South Australia’s most vulnerable electricity consumers as they make their business plans.
UCWB’s ConnectEd program, which educates community workers and volunteers about understanding essential energy, water and communications connections and billing, hosted focus groups for SA Power Networks in December 2017.
SA Power Networks is required by the Australian Energy Regulator to engage in consultation with its customers, and to that end they arranged with UCWB to recruit two groups of UCWB clients to attend focus groups hosted by UCWB.
ConnectEd coordinator, Heather Merran, said the clients were mixed groups of low income householders, many with families to support, a number with refugee backgrounds and English as a second or subsequent language.
“UCWB was able to arrange for crèche service and some translation assistance to enable these people to attend, listen and be heard,” Heather says.
Heather said that UCWB is aware that many of those who work in large companies, such as electricity networks and retailers, would have little or no real experience of life at the margins.
“We are pleased to be able to facilitate these conversations directly between such companies and the low-income people who need to use their services. Each party left the room with a richer understanding of the other’s needs, responsibilities and priorities,” Heather says.
“UCWB feels it is important to assist regulators and providers to understand the views and specific needs of people who find it challenging to afford what are essential utilities,” Heather says.
“Everyone has a right to essential utilities and UCWB is working to bring the industry and disadvantaged users together to build a greater understanding to ensure there is ease of access and fair treatment.
“People who are on low incomes, or families and individuals who are vulnerable or disadvantaged, are often the last to have their voice heard but are usually the first to feel the consequences of failure to pay their bills on time.”
View a video (below) about the SA Power Networks focus group workshop with UCWB clients held in December 2017.