Better outcomes for energy consumers using life support equipment at home – AEF | Australian Energy Foundation

Better outcomes for energy consumers using life support equipment at home

Life support customers are a growing portion of energy industry customers but there are gaps in the way they are being serviced, despite recent regulations that have been developed to protect these customers.

Meet Jo and Ash* for example. Every unplanned power outage poses a challenge to them as their young child relies on multiple pieces of life support equipment at home. Understandably, they find unplanned power outages stressful and always contact their energy provider for guidance. More often than not, the advice is the same: head to the local hospital. In their case, this would mean having to prepare their child for an ambulance ride, which can be very distressing. And given that in most cases the power is often restored quite quickly, Jo and Ash wish they could get some indication of the estimated restoration times to avoid any unnecessary disruption.

This is just one scenario commonly faced by life support customers, uncovered from an analysis of more than 3,600 responses to the Australian Energy Foundation’s survey conducted last year. Supported by a grant from Energy Consumers Australia, we conducted research to identify the challenges faced by life support customers and the ways they could be better supported by the energy industry, including through potential policy reform.

Key findings included:

  • Over half of all life support customers were aged over 65 years.
  • A third of these customers lived alone.
  • 54 per cent did not have a plan for a power outage.
  • Only 7 per cent had access to back-up power.
  • 9 per cent reported difficulty managing bills, despite qualifying for life support concessions.
  • Many customers believed their inclusion on the Life Support Customer Register afforded them priority restoration following an outage, despite this not being a protection under existing regulations.
  • 39 per cent of customers found it difficult to access information during unplanned outage.

While no two life support customers are the same, the survey identified some common and overlapping experiences and expectations. Key challenges faced by customers were summarised into fictional “personas”, such as Jo and Ash*, to communicate this important insight to industry stakeholders.

Our research highlighted several shortcomings in the services currently provided to life support customers. Many of the recommendations put forward in the report focus on improving customer service. Some of these include a dedicated 24-hour hotline for life support customers, better education to fill knowledge gaps and extending planned outage notifications beyond the current four days.

Other recommendations extend beyond the control of industry and would require further system-level reforms. They include replacing the term “Life Support Customer” with language focused on energy needs rather than medical condition, establishing a central database for information sharing and improving access to back-up power.

Click on the links below to read the full report or the executive summary, or watch this video to find out more.

 

Cover page of life support customers research

Click here to read the executive summary.
Click here to read the full report.

*Jo and Ash are personas created for the purposes of research but reflect the experiences of real customers.

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