As a holder of a NSW Seniors Card, I opted in to receive “special offers”. Most of these offers revolve around buying bulk wine via various “wine clubs”.
Such offers get ignored, as do the few other offers which tend to be for deals on utilities.
But yesterday, upon receiving an offer on discounted electricity from a company called Simply Energy, I did some spot checking on the company and the offer being made.
The “special” being made to seniors was a discount of 22%, . An internet search on the company produced an ad they run for discounts of 21% to ALL new customers. But when you clink on the link, you are taken to a page for a comparison check of prices between Simply Energy and competitors. There is no mention at all of any discount. Yet a further check on 22% discounts on electricity gave a link not to Simply Energy, but to Origin Energy – a major player in the market.
The discount offer being the same as that being offered elsewhere – and that it is a strange percentage to apply – are both strong indicators that the discount is based on external factors such as government regulation and/or the forces that affect the wholesale pricing. In short, there is nothing “special” about this offer – and as it is a discount off the “reference” price – i.e. the price a company lists before any discounts. There is no guarantee that the discount is coming off a reasonable standard rate and not an inflated one.
I next checked a product review site. What I found there was an unprecedented and whole-hearted avalanche of complaints about the company.
Appalled that the NSW government was facilitating spurious offers to a demographic with a large number of vulnerable people, I queried the propriety of the government allowing such an ad to be used in conjunction with the Seniors Card.
The main points from the reply I received were as follows:
The NSW Government through NSW Seniors Card cannot advise whether the offer, product or service being advertised is suitable or of appropriate quality for your needs, or whether you should seek independent legal, financial or medical advice before it is taken up.
We urge members to read the advertiser’s terms and conditions carefully to determine if the product or service is appropriate before making a decision.
Offers are only sent to members who opt in. No personal information on our members is provided to advertisers.
Businesses pay commercial rates to send offers to Seniors Card members. The revenue that is raised is used to fund and expand the Seniors Card program to provide a better service for seniors in NSW.
In short, the companies pay to advertise these “special” offers and the government neither vets nor takes any responsibility for the offers being valid, let alone legal or non-fraudulent. They simply suggest that everyone needs to read the fine-print and do their own research to see if the offer is suitable. Both the government and the advertiser must be aware that few people do this and that many older people do not even have the skills to do it.
It would be good to know now if the revenue from these ads goes directly into this program or into consolidated revenue where it can be used for anything – including one of the biggest government expenses – pork-barreling.
Electricity companies are not interest in you once you sign up (unless you’re late with a payment). Every single utility company has one objective – sign up new customers by any and all means available. They rely upon “customer loyalty” – which isn’t loyalty at all, but a kind of ennui brought about by the bewildering number and complexity of deals available. Yes, government regulation has made it easier to switch. What it hasn’t done is make it easier tp understand what you’re signing up for and whether it is real or smoke and mirrors.
I urge holders of the card to be very careful about any “special” offers received. The card does however, retain some value through the small discounts provided at various retail and service centers.