New rules for energy retailers in 2017

TORONTO, Jan. 31, 2017 /CNW/ - Tough new rules to better protect households and small businesses in their dealings with energy retailers came into effect on January 1, 2017.   

Following a review of the Energy Consumer Protection Act, 2010, the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) recommended several new measures to strengthen consumer protection. 

New measures that came into force on January 1:

  • Ban door-to-door energy retailers from signing you up for an energy contract while they are at your home
  • Place limits on when energy retailers can come to your home to market or advertise their business
  • Extend the time that consumers can cancel an energy contract without penalty to 30 days after they receive their second bill under the energy contract
  • Require all energy contracts –  even those entered into online  –  to be verified by the consumer 10-45 days after they've entered into the contract to confirm that they wish to continue with it
  • Eliminate auto-renewal of all energy contracts
  • Reduce cancellation fees for most residential consumers
  • Require energy retailers to include OEB-approved plain language terms and conditions in their energy contracts

Door-to-door energy retailers can present consumers with information at the door of their home at certain times, but they can no longer sign them up for a contract when they are there.  This gives residential consumers more time to consider whether an energy contract is right for them and make an informed decision.

Consumers can visit the OEB's website to access tips so they have the information they need to make decisions about their energy supply that are right for them. Consumers can also access complaint data, read about enforcement action taken, and report any concerns they have about their interactions with an energy retailer through the website.

The OEB encourages all consumers to visit its website and learn more about their rights and the rules that energy retailers have to follow, and to contact the OEB if they have any concerns.

Quotes:

"Protecting Ontario's energy consumers is at the heart of what the OEB does every day," says Rosemarie Leclair, OEB Chair and CEO. "We believe these new rules will give consumers greater confidence that they are protected against unfair business practices. Now that consumers can't be asked to sign up for contracts while an energy retailer is at their home, they can make choices about their energy supply at their own pace and with better information."

"It is critical that we hear from consumers to understand their concerns and how we, as the independent regulator tasked with protecting energy consumers, can better protect their interests," says Martine Band, Associate General Counsel at the OEB. "It's our goal to give consumers a voice in their energy sector – a voice that has impact – and we want consumers to know that they are being heard."

About the Ontario Energy Board:

The Ontario Energy Board (OEB) is an independent and impartial public agency. We make decisions that serve the public interest. Our goal is to promote a sustainable and efficient energy sector that provides consumers with reliable energy services at a reasonable cost.

Resources
ECPA Backgrounder
oeb.ca/knockknock
Twitter: @OntEnergyBoard

Contact Us
For more information, please refer to the attached backgrounder, visit the OEB website at oeb.ca or contact us directly.

 

Backgrounder
Strengthening Consumer Protection in the Retail Energy Markets

Overview

The Energy Consumer Protection Act, 2010 (ECPA) has been in effect since 2011, helping to protect residential and small business consumers from hidden costs, excessive cancellations fees and other unfair industry practices, and ensuring they have information they need to make decisions about energy contracts that are right for them.

On June 1, 2015, the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) released a report to the Minister of Energy assessing how effective the ECPA has been at protecting consumers since it was enacted, and recommended 14 new measures to improve and strengthen consumer protection. The OEB's report was informed by extensive, direct consumer consultation and stakeholder feedback.

On January 1, 2017, several new measures took effect, including the ban on energy retailers signing consumers up for energy contracts while they are at consumers' homes.  The OEB is also committed to empowering consumers by increasing energy literacy and consumer awareness. Other new measures that will come into effect later in the year are more consumer friendly disclosures and price comparisons, and rules that will make energy contracts more visible on the bill. 

The OEB already offers an online bill calculator for consumers who want to compare their utility price with a contract offer, and the OEB's website has information on complaints received by the OEB about energy retailers and on OEB enforcement actions.

Background on Utilities, Energy Retailers

In today's market, Ontario energy consumers have options in choosing their energy supplier. They can continue being supplied by their utility, or they can sign an energy contract with an energy retailer. Energy retailers are not utilities. They offer an alternative way for consumers to purchase electricity or natural gas. The majority of energy consumers choose to purchase their energy from their utility.

Electricity and natural gas prices that most of Ontario's residential and small business consumers pay to their utility are set by the OEB.  The OEB does not set prices offered by energy retailers. 

An energy contract only covers part of a consumer's bill. A consumer that switches to an energy retailer will still have to pay other charges to their utility companies to have natural gas and electricity delivered to their home or small business. These other charges include delivery charges and taxes.

There are 16 licensed energy retailers in Ontario.

Background on the Energy Consumer Protection Act, 2010

The Energy Consumer Protection Act, 2010 came into effect on Jan. 1, 2011. When the ECPA became law, the government stated the goals of the legislation were to: (i) protect residential and small business consumers from hidden costs, excessive cancellation fees and other unfair practices; and (ii) ensure consumers have the information they need to make decisions about electricity and natural gas contracts that are right for them, and confidence that they're protected from unfair business practices.

The ECPA, along with the OEB's own consumer protection rules, set out the obligations that energy retailers must comply with when they sell electricity or natural gas under contract to residential and small business consumers. Learn more about the OEB's review of the ECPA and the new measures that the OEB recommended to strengthen consumer protection.

 

Matte Story
Energy Consumer Protection Act, 2010

New rules for energy retailers in 2017

You've just sat down at the dinner table after a long day at work or maybe you're lugging the vacuum out of the closet to finish your housework. That's when the doorbell rings and you open the door only to find yourself in the middle of a sales pitch.

The salesperson has all kinds of questions about your energy habits and how much you pay for energy each month. They might even ask you to show them your latest electricity or natural gas bill.

For some people, that can be an unnerving experience.

But Ontarians now have stronger protections when it comes to dealing with energy retailers that sell electricity and natural gas under contract, based on recommendations that the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) made to the government in 2015. 

On January 1, 2017, tough new rules came into force under the revised Energy Consumer Protection Act, 2010 (ECPA) that make it illegal for door-to-door energy retailers to sign you up for an energy contract while they are at your home. As a result, residential consumers won't have to feel pressured to make a decision on the spot.  They will have more time to think about whether an energy contract is right for them and make an informed decision.

Several other important new measures now also apply, including limits on when energy retailers can come to your home to market or advertise their business, and reduced cancellation fees for most residential consumers.    

"Protecting Ontario's energy consumers is at the heart of what the OEB does every day," says Rosemarie Leclair, OEB Chair and CEO. "We believe these new rules will give consumers greater confidence that they are protected against unfair business practices. Now that consumers can't be asked to sign up for contracts while an energy retailer is at their home, they can make choices about their energy supply at their own pace and with better information."

The ECPA has been in effect since 2011, helping to protect consumers from hidden costs, excessive cancellation fees and other unfair practices, while ensuring they have information they need to make the right decisions about energy contracts.

But after a lengthy review and recommendations from the OEB, the government revamped the ECPA to make it stronger, and the OEB has also developed new consumer protection rules of its own.

The new protection measures:

  • Ban door-to-door energy retailers from signing you up for an energy contract while they are at your home
  • Place limits on when energy retailers can come to your home to market or advertise their business
  • Extend the time that consumers can cancel an energy contract without penalty to 30 days after they receive their second bill under the energy contract
  • Require all energy contracts –  now even those entered into online –  to be verified by the consumer 10-45 days after they've entered into the contract to confirm that they wish to continue with it
  • Eliminate auto-renewal of all energy contracts
  • Reduce cancellation fees for most residential consumers
  • Require energy retailers to include OEB-approved plain language terms and conditions in their energy contracts

The OEB is also committed to empowering consumers by increasing energy literacy and consumer awareness. Other new measures that will come into effect later in the year are more consumer friendly disclosures and price comparisons, and rules that will make energy contracts more visible on the bill. 

The OEB already offers an online bill calculator for consumers who want to compare their utility price with a contract offer, and the OEB's website has information on complaints received by the OEB about energy retailers and on OEB enforcement actions.

"A core part of our role as the independent regulator that is tasked with protecting energy consumers is to make sure energy retailers follow the rules", Leclair says. If the OEB finds that an energy retailer has broken the rules, the OEB can take enforcement action. Last year, the level of financial penalties that the OEB can impose was increased to $1 million for each day the violation occurs or continues.  The OEB can also order an energy retailer to cancel contracts and refund money to consumers, or suspend or revoke an energy retailer's licence.

The OEB encourages all consumers to visit its website at oeb.ca/knockknock and learn more about their rights and the rules that energy retailers have to follow, and to contact the OEB if they have any concerns.

SOURCE Ontario Energy Board

To view this news release in HTML formatting, please use the following URL: http://www.newswire.ca/en/releases/archive/January2017/31/c1358.html

For further information: Media Inquiries: Phone: 416-544-5171, Email: oebmedia@ontarioenergyboard.ca; Consumer Inquiries: 416-314-2455, 1-877-632-2727, www.oeb.ca

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