New code to improve protections for solar and energy storage consumers

household solar, SGDs

The ACCC has authorised a new consumer code for retailers of products such as solar generation systems, energy storage systems, electrical vehicle charging and other emerging energy products and services, subject to conditions.

The New Energy Tech Consumer Code sets minimum standards of good practice and consumer protection. It applies to all aspects of customers’ interactions with participating retailers, including marketing, sales, finance and payments, warranties and complaints handling processes.

“Households can pay significant amounts for products like solar panels and battery storage, and sometimes they end up with expensive products that don’t suit their needs or they can’t afford,” ACCC Commissioner Stephen Ridgeway said.

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“This Code aims to give consumers more information to help them make informed purchases, and more protections against being sold unsuitable or unaffordable products.”

Signatories to the Code must comply with obligations, including that they:

  • avoid high-pressure sales tactics and make no offers of finance in unsolicited sales not regulated by the National Consumer Credit Protection Act (2009)
  • ensure consumer finance products are provided responsibly, and that they provide effective dispute resolution and avenues to address customers experiencing hardship
  • ensure their advertising is clear and accurate
  • educate consumers about their rights
  • provide clear information about product performance and maintenance
  • take extra steps to protect vulnerable consumers, and
  • implement effective complaints handling processes.

“We received many submissions on this matter, particularly about requirements relating to responsible finance,” Mr Ridgeway said.

“On this issue, the ACCC has sought to strike a balance between providing appropriate protections for consumers, while not unduly restricting consumers’ choices in how they can finance purchases.”

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Under the original proposed code, consumers were not able to use “buy now pay later” finance to purchase products from participating retailers.

Following amendments, the Code now allows consumers to access “buy now pay later” finance arrangements from signatories, as long as the credit provider offers an appropriate standard of consumer protection.

However, “buy now pay later” finance will not be allowed for unsolicited sales.

Because the Code imposes conditions on the sales practices of competing companies, and includes sanctions for non-compliance, the Code’s developers sought ACCC authorisation to ensure they were not breaching competition laws.

The authorised parties are the Australian Energy Council, Clean Energy Council, Smart Energy Council and Energy Consumers Australia, as well as retailers that become signatories to the Code.