Victorian households have avoided further increases to their electricity bills following decisions by the Australian Competition Tribunal released this week. The Tribunal rejected arguments by the five Victorian Distribution Networks that they should be allowed to recover an extra $345 million from Victorian consumers.
The decisions are the last in a series of cases heard by the Tribunal under the Limited Merits Review (LMR) process, which was abolished by the Federal Government on Monday. The LMR process enabled both consumers and Network Companies to challenge electricity pricing determinations made by the Australian Energy Regulator (AER), but it was broadly criticised as leading to price increases for consumers.
The Public Interest Advocacy Centre and the Consumer Policy Research Centre (formerly the Consumer Utilities Advocacy Centre) argued against price increases before the Tribunal.
‘Victorian households should be relieved that further price increases have been avoided at a time of great stress in the energy market,’ said PIAC Senior Solicitor, Julia Mansour.
‘Although electricity prices in Victoria have gone up at a comparatively slower rate than in other parts of Australia, price increases inevitably lead to further hardship and disconnections, particularly for disadvantaged and vulnerable consumers.
‘While we support the Federal Government’s move to abolish LMR, the Network companies will still be able to challenge the Regulator’s pricing decisions by seeking judicial review. The Victorian decisions show that stronger consumer involvement in reviews is crucial to achieving fairer outcomes in the price-setting process,’ said Julia Mansour.
PIAC welcomes further consultations announced by the COAG Energy Council to improve consumer participation in the regulation of electricity pricing. ‘It is our hope that Government, consumers and the regulator continue to work together to make the electricity pricing system fairer for ordinary consumers,’ said Julia Mansour. ‘Any review process must benefit the people it is designed to serve and more can be done to ensure consumers have the resources and capacity to be involved in the price-setting process.’
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