#BetterTogether – Supporting Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) energy customers

While innovative and inspiring work with CALD consumers is increasing across the energy sector, more can be done, as a recent report from the Ethics Communities Council of NSW shows.

The Australian population is far from homogenous. The 2016 Census revealed that more than a quarter (26%) of Australia’s population were born overseas, up from 25% in 2011. People who speak a language other than English at home make up roughly one fifth of the Australian population, rising to more than one quarter in the two most populous states and exceeding one half of the population of some areas of Sydney and Melbourne.

These communities share structural and institutional challenges in negotiating the energy market.

They are under-represented in a range of areas, including payment assistance programs, the use of Ombudsmen complaints and dispute resolution services, access to information and uptake of new services and technology.  

ABS census statistics point to the over-representation of many CALD communities in the lowest two quintiles of the income spectrum. Often, they do not complain (or their complaints are not heard) which means their challenges and concerns may be overlooked unless specific mechanisms exist within the energy market to ensure that their interests are considered as business-as-usual practice.

In 2016, the ECCNSW published the Cultural Connections Guidelines aimed at guiding Australian energy retailers and distributors to engage with culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities, which included a case study from Energy Charter signatories EnergyAustralia and Jemena.

As part of the ongoing monitoring and evaluation of CALD strategies included in the guide, ECCNSW has followed up with a new 2020 report Continuing Cultural Connections: CALD best practice in a consumer centric energy market. This report reviews the progress of the energy sector in implementing CALD strategies with nine further case studies, of which Energy Charter signatories Jemena and Ausgrid took part.

“As part of Jemena’s recent New South Wales gas distribution pricing plan, we worked with the ECCNSW to arrange three forums for Arabic speakers, as we engaged with communities to better understand their journey to Australia and their unique perspectives on gas.

“We have done a lot of work to better understand our customers across our Jemena Electricity Network in Victoria and Jemena Gas Network in New South Wales, in particular during the COVID-19 pandemic. We wanted to make sure everyone had access to important messages and so we identified key CALD groups in our areas and have worked with our translation service providers to ensure our messaging is available in different languages across a variety of platforms.”Kate Hawke, Marketing and Brand manager, Jemena

Whilst there has been extensive work undertaken by energy businesses, regulators, agencies and Ombudsman schemes, the report highlights that progress has been slower than expected due to:

  • CALD engagement and communication is not business as usual
  • Network revenue determinations, multiple urgent and ongoing projects and competing staff priorities
  • Staff change within organisations being an ongoing issue with project initiation
  • Compartmentalisation and ‘siloing’ within larger organisations
  • Input from the major retailers being lower than initially expected

The survey instrument developed to assess CALD strategies identified two measures that will assist to ensure CALD consumers and their advocates are part of the conversation and maintain innovation and consistency of action across the sector for CALD consumers.

These were:

  • The need to maintain capacity for advocacy for CALD consumers
  • Secure ongoing financial support for wide CALD advocacy across the energy market

To address some of these concerns, Energy Charter COVID-19 customer communications have been translated widely for CALD consumers and we are sharing this information via the #BetterTogether – Energy Charter Communal Content Hub and “We’ve got you” customer information campaign.  To provide a platform for CALD conversations around energy, Energy Charter signatories are also supporting an innovative energy literacy online ‘train the trainer’ program run by Voices for Power.  The program is scheduled to commence shortly in Western Sydney with key learnings to be shared.

 

“We shared the Energy Charter’s translated student energy efficiency fact sheet and the ENA’s ‘$1 electricity gets me’ with our community partners: Care Financial, St Vincent De Paul and ACT Civil & Administrative Tribunal. Care Financial said: ‘This is great and so needed. We shall definitely be using these with our clients and I will forward this to our financial counsellors as well’ and passed them on further to Migrant and Refugee Settlement Services of the ACT. 

These groups have direct contact with customers and members of the Canberra community in need of extra support to keep warm and on top of their energy bills this winter, so we know the resources will add value right where it’s needed. We’re also grateful to Energy Charter and Jemena for providing the translations, which enable us to empower Canberra’s diverse community.” – Charlie Sage, ActewAGL Senior Hardship Officer

In the analysis, ECCNSW said the single most important factor in helping to progress these projects has been the one-to-one conversations between ECCNSW and the businesses and agencies around CALD consultation and engagement.

“With some businesses and agencies ECCNSW has been able to provide various levels of support, including: employment for trained bilingual facilitator support to a project; timely reminders of their CALD engagement and consultation; and with others, advice and guidance on better practice for CALD engagement and consultation.” – Iain Maitland, Ethnic Communities’ Council of NSW