Consumer Challenge Panel

The AER established the Consumer Challenge Panel (CCP) in July 2013 as part of our Better Regulation reforms.

The CCP assists the AER to make better regulatory determinations by providing input on issues of importance to consumers. Regulatory determinations are technical and complex processes which can make it difficult for ordinary consumers to participate. The expert members of the CCP bring consumer perspectives to the AER to better balance the range of views considered as part of our decisions.

Recruitment

The Australian Energy Regulator is looking for Expressions of Interest for the ongoing CCP program. Applications close 3 August 2016 at 2pm AEST. Late applications cannot be considered.

The Australian Energy Regulator will appoint individuals to the CCP in September 2016 for a term of three years. Individuals with consumer insight and engagement, regulatory decision-making or knowledge of energy or other utilities should consider applying to be a member of the CCP. Members appointed to the CCP will be paid for their services.

For more information on the application process and to submit an Expression of Interest, visit the Australian Government Tender System, AusTender (www.tenders.gov.au).

Objective of the CCP  

The objective of the CCP is to:

  • advise the AER on whether the network businesses’ proposals are in the long term interests of consumers; and
  • advise the AER on the effectiveness of network businesses’ engagement activities with their customers and how this is reflected in the development of their proposals.

Roles of CCP members

The role of the CCP is to provide input and challenge the AER on key consumer issues during a network determination, to improve the AER’s decisions. The CCP will facilitate the consideration of the consumer perspective to achieve a balanced consideration of all views by the AER.

  • the CCP is not a decision-making forum, nor is its role to negotiate or advocate on behalf of consumers or industry.  Its role is to act in an advisory capacity to help inform the AER’s decisions with regards to consumer interests. The CCP provides inputs and challenge which might not come through other means
  • the CCP is required to develop an understanding of business, market and industry trends, and the consumer engagement that has been undertaken in relation to proposals
  • the CCP is required to understand the AER’s approach to assessing businesses’ proposal and to provide “wise counsel”, insights and ideas which can only come from a consumer perspective
  • the CCP is to critically assess whether the issues identified by the AER are important when considering the long-term interests of consumers and whether the approach by the AER to these key issues is in the long-term interests of consumers
  • to assist the CCP in understanding the AER’s approach CCP members will have access to AER staff
  • the CCP will provide its advice through:
    • presentations to the AER Board
    • written statements of advice.
  • The AER is not obliged to act on the views expressed by CCP members, but will give due weight and consideration to the advice provided. The AER will provide a clear rationale for their decision and will provide feedback to CCP members as to how their views have been considered and addressed.

Independent review of Consumer Challenge Panel by Nous Group

The AER commissioned an independent review of its Consumer Challenge Panel (CCP), which it released publicly on 5 May 2016. The review found strong support for the objectives and operation of the CCP from a wide range of stakeholders. The AER welcomes the findings of the report and will be working to implement its recommendations.

The Nous Consulting group was commissioned to conduct the independent review of the CCP to consider to what extent the CCP program had achieved its objectives and to examine the efficiency and effectiveness of the program over its first three year term.

The Consumer Challenge Panel played a key role in promoting an independent consumer perspective in energy regulation. The review revealed that this role can be enhanced through process improvements which promote greater consistency, collaboration and clarity of the CCP function.

The AER broadly agrees with the report’s findings and recommendations and will refine the operation of the CCP in accordance with the recommendations. Key recommendations include:

  • Introducing processes to increase collaboration and engagement between the AER and CCP. Jointly confirming issues of interest and agreeing on approaches will enhance the value of advice provided to the AER.
  • Introducing a more structured and consistent approach to engagement between the CCP and network businesses and consumer groups. This should focus on providing insights of value to the AER decision making process.
  • The development of a precedent library to allow the CCP to share knowledge across various topics and resets.

NOUS Group - Review of the Consumer Challenge Panel - AER - Independent report - 6 April 2016 [ pdf (379.61 KB) ]

NOUS Group - Review of the Consumer Challenge Panel - AER independent report - Executive Summary - 6 April 2016 [ PDF (43.82 KB) ]

Upcoming work for the AER

The AER will be working on implementing the following recommendations;

  1. Refine the framework governing the operation of the CCP to:
  • Encourage consistency in how the AER and CCP collaborate across the range of projects the CCP works on.
  • Provide greater clarity and guidance on the role of the CCP and to ensure all parties are working together, confirming issues of interest, setting priorities, and agreeing on approaches.
  1. Create process maps that clearly set out the approach for engagement between the CCP and its stakeholders, as well as create a formal evaluation process for the CCP, this will provide feedback to the CCP.
  2. Developing a precedent library for knowledge sharing and cross pollination of information between the different subpanels, to help streamline CCP work. Part of this will be encouraging CCP guidance material containing “best practice” work on particular topics and enhanced opportunities for CCP plenary sessions.

Background

Roles of CCP members

The roles of CCP members include:

  • advising the AER on whether a network business's proposal is justified in terms of the services to be delivered to customers; whether those services are acceptable to, and valued by, customers; and whether the proposal is in the long term interests of consumers
  • advising the AER on the effectiveness of network businesses’ engagement with their customers and how this engagement has informed, and been reflected in, the development of their proposals.

For further information see the CCP charter, Better Regulation: AER's Consumer Challenge Panel fact sheet and CCP Q&As.

AER’s Consumer Challenge Panel: Description, Charter and evaluation criteria - 10 April 2013 [ pdf (47.05 KB) | docx (34.4 KB) ]

Better Regulation: AER's Consumer Challenge Panel - Fact Sheet [ pdf (38.74 KB) | docx (33.5 KB) ]

Consumer Challenge Panel - Q&As [ pdf (40.83 KB) | DOCX (21.66 KB) ]

CCP statements and advice

To meet its objective of assisting the AER make better regulatory determinations, the Consumer Challenge Panel may provide statements and advices to the AER.

Panel members

The CCP currently has nine members appointed by the AER for a three year term - from 1 July 2013 to 30 June 2016. The members have significant local and international expertise, spanning fields including economic regulation, energy networks and consumer representation.

The members are:

  • Ms Jo De Silva
  • Mr Hugh Grant
  • Mr David Headberry
  • Mr Mark Henley
  • Ms Bev Hughson
  • Ms Ruth Lavery
  • Mr Bruce Mountain
  • Mr David Prins
  • Ms Robyn Robinson

Further information on each member is available in the Consumer Challenge Panel Member Biographies.

Consumer Challenge Panel - Member Biographies (last updated 1 July 2015) [ docx (52.92 KB) | pdf (96.67 KB) ]

AER approach to the CCP

We have developed a framework to optimise the quality, timeliness and usefulness of CCP advice to the AER.

Sub-panels of 2-5 members work on each regulatory determination. Sub-panels are generally allocated a cluster of resets that are jurisdiction based, with members allocated to these groups based on their interests and experience.

Members use their expertise and consumer perspectives to identify important consumer issues and challenge how the AER approaches its work. Members have flexibility to work in a way that best suits them. While the AER can request advice on a particular matter, members can identify their own issues for consideration and do not have to engage on all aspects of a determination.

Throughout a determination, members work closely with AER staff and meet with the AER Board. This provides opportunities for members and the AER to debate issues and seek information and feedback.

CCP members accompany AER staff to meet with businesses at different stages of a review. These meetings provide members with an understanding of the business and its regulatory proposal, including outcomes for consumers.

Consumer Challenge Panel - Framework for advice [ PDF (86.06 KB) | docx (26.07 KB) ]

Consumer Challenge Panel - Sub-panels (updated March 2015) [ docx (22.95 KB) | pdf (115.14 KB) ]

Conflict of Interest

Members of the CCP have been appointed because of their backgrounds and experience. In addition to their role with the CCP, members may also be active in the Australian energy industry and wider community. In performing multiple roles, conflicts of interest may arise.

A conflict of interest guideline assists members in managing this issue. CCP members must notify the AER of all potential conflicts, which are listed on a public register. In some circumstances, a conflict may result in a member removing themselves from a project.

Consumer Challenge Panel - Conflict of interest guideline [ pdf (126.89 KB) | DOCX (48.36 KB) ]

Consumer Challenge Panel - Conflict of interest register - 30 July 2015 [ xlsx (12.21 KB) | pdf (314.39 KB) ]

Confidentiality and Freedom of Information

As the CCP sits within the AER, members are subject to the same confidentiality and FOI requirements as the AER. The AER has a duty to protect all confidential information provided by a third party. All CCP members sign confidentiality undertakings agreeing to treat all information provided by the AER as confidential and to only use the information for official CCP purposes.

The work of the CCP is also subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Work produced by CCP members may be released following an FOI request, unless the work falls within an exemption under the Act.

A Confidentiality and FOI guidance paper assists members in understanding their obligations in dealing with confidential information and the FOI regime.

Consumer Challenge Panel - Confidentiality and FOI guidance [ pdf (86.38 KB) | DOCX (32.93 KB) ]

Expert Report

Our approach to the CCP has been informed by the experience of regulators in Great Britain and adapted to reflect the Australian context and regulatory framework. Further information on the experience of consumer challenge in Great Britain and its potential role in Australia is available in a paper by Dr Gill Owen commissioned by the AER: The potential role of Consumer Challenge in energy network regulation in Australia.

Additional information is also available in the AER’s March 2013 National Consumer Roundtable presentation on the CCP.

The potential role of Consumer Challenge in energy network regulation in Australia [ pdf (167.5 KB) | docx (80.02 KB) ]

National Consumer Roundtable on Energy - Consumer Challenge Panel Presentation [ pdf (636 KB) | doc (45 KB) ]