Our year in review: economic regulation, consumer vulnerability and getting to fair
18 January 2023
The Essential Services Commission’s annual report outlines the key regulatory outcomes delivered in 2021–22 to support Victorians to access vital water, energy, transport and council services.
Chairperson Kate Symons says the shifting economic environment and resulting cost-of-living pressures have emphasised the importance of the commission’s role in promoting the long-term interests of Victorians with respect to the price, quality, and reliability of essential services.
“Events like the COVID-19 pandemic and the energy market crisis have brought our mission to protect and promote the interests of Victorian consumers ever more sharply into focus. This is reflected in the programs, advice, and decisions we delivered last year to support all Victorians to access essential services,” Commissioner Symons said.
The commission worked closely with stakeholders to progress its Getting to Fair strategy which was launched in August 2021. The strategy seeks to provide more responsive, inclusive, and accessible essential services to Victorian consumers, including those who may experience vulnerability in different ways.
In keeping with the strategy, the commission last year focused on bringing more consumer voices into its work. This included setting expectations with regulated businesses around inclusive engagement, appointing advisors with lived experience to help develop industry resources that better support consumers affected by family violence, and assembling dedicated community panels to discuss barriers to accessing essential services.
“I am proud of the commission’s efforts to engage diverse voices and experiences to inform our work. We are actively engaging with the community about what is important and what is helpful. This helps us to be clearer in our expectations of regulated businesses, and more responsive in our actions and decisions to support Victorian consumers,” Commissioner Symons said.
The commission also continued to uphold critical consumer protections in 2021–22 through effective compliance programs and enforcement actions.
“We maintained our focus on preventing consumer harm by providing guidance to businesses about their obligations. Where businesses failed to follow the rules, we stood up for consumers and took action, with an emphasis on our compliance and enforcement priorities,” Commissioner Symons said.
This led to five energy retailers paying $6.485 million in penalties in 2021–22 over allegations relating to planned outages, exit fees on contracts and wrongful disconnections.
The commission was given expanded investigative and enforcement powers in the energy sector last financial year, while greater enforcement powers associated with legislated changes to the Victorian Energy Upgrades program will take effect in 2023.
Commissioner Symons says these amendments strengthen consumer protections and boost the commission’s capabilities as a strong, fair and active regulator.
“The regulatory space is continually evolving to reflect the key economic and environmental challenges and opportunities of our time. At the centre is the commission’s objective to support and deliver value for all Victorian consumers,” Commission Symons said.
“Reflecting on 2021–22, we acknowledge the significant contribution of our stakeholders – across government, industry, community services and consumer groups – in helping us to support all Victorian consumers to access essential services. We look forward to continuing this important collaboration in 2023.”