Around 44% of Australians have low English literacy levels – that’s according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Literacy levels are affected by many things. People may be from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and English may not be their first language. They may be early-school leavers or have less exposure to literacy in adult life. They may also have an intellectual, cognitive, or learning disability – or an acquired disability due to stroke, brain damage, or a degenerative condition.
Whatever the reason – and whatever the level of literacy – it’s important that companies and organisations help their customers and clients comprehend important information and documents.
Leading the way on literacy
AGL is a founding partner with the University of Melbourne and Thriving Communities Partnership on research in improving access and support for consumers with cognitive disabilities. This research highlights the importance for energy retailers like us to make our processes and communications more accessible – and thus more helpful – to all consumers, especially those with low English literacy levels.
Based on this research, we worked with disability support organisation Scope to translate key customer documents – including our guide and electricity and gas bill explainers – into Easy English, a style of writing that provides understandable, concise information for people with low English literacy.
|What is Easy English?|
Easy English is different to writing in plain English, or plain language. It forgoes complicated formatting in favour of simple, physically easy-to-read layouts and text sizing and spacing.
The language used is simple, with a clear focus on facts and key points. Sentences are limited to a single idea and use clear examples and imagery to convey important points.
These documents aim to empower our customers who may have difficulties with reading, writing, and communicating to make the right decisions for them and their families.
The Easy English guides break down key components of the documents. In the case of our bills, this includes how much customers need to pay, how to pay, account details, and how to contact us if they need help with their bill or payments.
Positive feedback from those who matter
During the development of the guides, we worked with Scope to refine the guides from feedback provided directly by consumers – things like language, layout, images, and readability of the documents. We launched the guides to more than 750 financial counsellors from across Australia at the 2019 National Financial Counsellors conference. The reception was elated, according to Nerita Somers – a functional analyst in our Affordability team and the architect of the Easy English guides.
‘The financial counsellors were incredibly pleased that we had taken the time, effort, and the resources to transform highly complex billing information into Easy English’, Nerita said.
‘Beyond just helping out with billing, many of them also mentioned that they could use the guides for energy literacy education with their clients and help them better understand their energy usage.’
Following the launch, we began rolling out the guides at our community roadshows and Bring Your Bill days, and customers have told us how beneficial they are. The reception from customers has led directly to further work with Scope to produce Easy English guides covering a wide range of subjects, including:
- Bill smoothing
- Choose your way to pay
- Our Staying Connected program
- Our Payment Support Victoria program
- Reading residential electricity bills
- Reading residential gas bills
- Saving energy and money
Putting the focus on our customers
We’re now working with Scope to help others to consider Easy English as a vital aspect of talking to customers.
Our Customer Advocate, David Bland, is the spokesperson for a video campaign promoting accessible communications.
‘Energy's complicated, and bills are at times very difficult to understand,’ David said. ‘It's so important that we meet the needs of all our customers.’
‘We have 3.7 million account holders, and we want to make sure we do the right thing by all of them.
‘We do a lot of listening to customers - and customers tell us that Easy English is an incredibly important tool to take control of their lives.’
‘This is a really important resource.’