New Energy Tech Consumer Code Authorised – BNPL Lives On

New Energy Tech Consumer Code

A new consumer code for retailers of ‘new energy tech’ products such as solar panels, batteries and EV charging systems has been authorised by the Australian Competition Tribunal, with conditions.

The New Energy Tech Consumer Code (NETCC), which will make the problematic CEC Approved Solar Retailer scheme eventually obsolete, sets minimum standards of good practice and consumer protection in relation to all aspects of customers’ interactions with participating retailers.

The Code has had a long and very bumpy journey, with one of the thorny points being “buy now pay later” (BNPL) finance providers.

SQ founder Finn Peacock wrote in detail about BNPL and the Code (and other aspects of the NETCC) in February this year; after a push from various parties to exclude BNPL from solar power system sales and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) made amendments to the Code to tighten up some BNPL practices.

While the ACCC acknowledged “buy now pay later” finance was valued by consumers, it believed greater protections were required to reduce the risk of harm to consumers from entering into unsuitable or unaffordable finance arrangements.

However, the Tribunal has varied the ACCC’s conditions of authorisation in relation to the requirements that BNPL finance providers must meet, and imposed a condition removing the prohibition on BNPL finance being offered in unsolicited sales of new energy tech.

Based on the evidence presented, the Tribunal concluded BNPL finance did not generate material consumer harm and there was substantial detriment in restricting BNPL finance options to consumers. It concluded any harm that may arise by unlawful selling of BNPL products could be reduced by the consumer protections contained in the Code.

“The Tribunal considers that unregulated consumer credit in the form of “buy now pay later” finance is a significant and popular form of finance used by consumers to acquire New Energy Technology products desired by those consumers and therefore the supply of such finance provides economic benefits.”

The ACCC notes ASIC is actively considering whether the National Consumer Credit laws should be extended to cover BNPL finance.

Mandatory Standards

The Tribunal also removed the Code administrators’ ability to impose mandatory standards at their whim regarding new energy tech products and services.

The Tribunal commented:

“An agreement between competitors to abide by agreed mandatory standards could be used to restrict innovation and competitive offers by solar panel merchants in the future. This could result in unknown public detriments arising in the future, making it difficult for the Tribunal to be satisfied that the overall balance of public benefits and detriments arising from the code meets the test for authorisation.”

The Australian Competition Tribunal’s summary determination can be viewed here and full conditions of authorisation here.

In somewhat related news, the ACCC published its Solar Retailer Code Of Conduct Draft Determination concerning its re-authorisation last month. The Clean Energy Council sought further re-authorisation of the Code due to delays with the NETCC.

About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.

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