Prepayment recommended for low income customers in NZ

Wellington, New Zealand — (METERING.COM) — June 11, 2007 – The provision of prepayment meters for low income customers in New Zealand has been recommended by the country’s electric market overseer, the Electricity Commission.

The Commission also recommends that retailers should investigate the use of prepayment meters to recover electricity debts, and that where a retailer is unable to provide prepayment meters, it should assist consumers who request prepayment meters to switch to a retailer who can. It also recommends that prepayment meters be used as an alternative to a bond (where an up-front payment of a lump sum is made for a connection to provide security to the retailer) where there are separate legal parties living in a single household, for example student flats.

These recommendations form part of a guideline on arrangements to assist low income domestic customers who are having difficulty paying their bills. Other recommendations for alternatives to standard monthly billing include the use of smoothed payment contracts, where consumers pay an amount that varies little from one payment period to another, and dedicated automatic payments of an agreed amount at an agreed frequency between consumer and retailer.

The guideline also reviews the case of vulnerable customers, who through health or disability issues face difficulty in making payments, and disconnection and reconnection standards associated with non-payment. In the case of the latter it is recommended that retailers should make reasonable efforts to contact consumers before a disconnection takes place and they should propose alternative contractual arrangements to assist the consumer in meeting their payment responsibilities.

Other recommendations are that all bills should have the due date clearly marked on the invoice, and that where a consumer is having difficulty meeting their payments, and it is clear to the retailer that they are not on the best tariff for their consumption, the retailer should advise the consumer of any more appropriate tariff options available and assist them to move to that tariff. It is also recommended that retailers should comply with the requirements for frequency of meter reading.