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Managing Your Energy Bill

Your energy retailer is the company that sends you your electricity or gas bill.

The Energy Retail Code (Code) specifies the rules and regulations that your energy retailer  must follow when supplying your electricity and gas. The Code applies to:

  • all domestic consumers and
  • small business consumers who consume less than 40MWh of electricity, or less than 1000GJ of gas per year.

You can download the ‘Managing Your Energy Bill’ Guide as a pdf document.

Other languages

You can download the ‘Managing your Energy Bill’ guide as a pdf document in the following languages:

  • language-arabic
  • language-greek
  • language-turkish
  • language-vietnamese
  • language-cantonese
  • language-italian

Reasons for a high bill

Reasons you might receive an unexpectedly high energy bill include:

Price Increases

Your energy retailer can increase prices during a billing cycle, charging you amounts on both the old and new rate. All rates (both old and new) must be shown separately on your bill.

If you are on a standing contract, energy retailers can choose to increase their prices every six months. Unless you are billed monthly, this means you could see a price rise on every second electricity or gas bill.

If you are on a market contract, prices can change at any time unless the price is locked in for the contact period.

Energy retailers are required to advise you of a price variation as soon as practicable otherwise on your next bill.

Back Billing

One of the reasons for an unexpectedly high bill is back-billing.

Common reasons for back-billing are:

  • Delayed bills
    If there is a delay in issuing your bill, when you receive your next bill it could be for more than one billing cycle (e.g. six instead of three months). Any amount you need to pay will be limited to nine months from the date you are notified of the undercharge.
  • Undercharging
    You were previously undercharged for your energy usage and your energy retailer is now billing you for these amounts.
  • Unpaid amounts
    If you have not paid a previous bill or have part paid a bill or a payment is not received by your energy retailer, any outstanding amounts will be added to your next bill.
  • Unable to access meter
    If the delay or undercharge was your fault either through an unlawful act or because you did not provide safe and unhindered meter access, no time limit applies to the amount your energy retailer can charge you.

The Energy Retail Code states that your energy retailer:

  • must list all back-billed amounts and explain what they are
  • must give you extra time to pay any undercharged or previously unbilled amounts (e.g. if the period you are being back-billed for is three months, you must be given an extra three months to pay this amount, limited to 12 months)
  • cannot charge interest on back-billed amounts
  • if there has been a price increase during the period when you did not receive a bill, your retailer must bill you based on the tariff that applied at the time of the consumption

Concessions have not been applied

Billing system errors or outdated concession information can result in concessions not being correctly applied to your bill. If you have a valid concession card you may be eligible for concessions, check to make sure your concessions have been applied. Call your energy retailer to make sure that they have your current concession details including the correct spelling of your name and the concession expiry date.

Discounts have not been applied

As part of your contract you may receive a discount for paying a bill on time (e.g. 10% discount for payment of your bill on or before the due date or a credit for setting up a direct debit payment method). If you don't pay the bill by the due date or your direct debit is unsuccessful you will not be eligible for the credit and your next bill will be higher.

Check your contract or plan to ensure you are receiving all your entitlements.

Estimated versus actual reading

Bill amounts can fluctuate, depending on whether your bill is based on an estimate of your average usage or an actual meter reading. The Energy Retail Code specifies that meters must be read at least once every 12 months. You can expect quarterly billing unless you have arranged a different billing cycle with your retailer.

If your meter has not been read, your bill will show the word 'Estimated' or 'E' beside the meter readings.

Even though some bills are estimates, eventually you only be billed for and pay for the energy you use. Once your meter is read, your next bill will be adjusted to reflect the actual reading. If you used more energy than the estimate, you will need to pay for it. If you used less energy, your account will be adjusted to reflect this and any resultant credit will be applied.

A smart meter regularly records your usage (in 30 minute intervals) and data is automatically sent to your electricity Distributor. You may receive an estimated bill based on substituted data if the interval data recorded was not successfully transmitted to the electricity Distributor.

If your bill is based on interval data from a smart meter it must include the index read at the start and end of the billing period, the tariff and total amount of electricity consumed in (kWh) in each period.

Increase in your energy usage

A bill can be higher because of changes in your household or the way you use energy. This can include seasonal variations in usage (e.g. air-conditioning in summer, heating in winter), more people in the house (e.g. guests, being home more), or renovations. Appliances can also contribute to bill increases. New, old or inefficient appliances may use more gas or electricity, the temperature settings of appliances can also impact your bill. You can consider engaging an electrician or a plumber to inspect appliances that may be faulty or inefficient.

Most energy retailers have useful energy saving tips and advice on their websites.

To monitor and improve usage patterns, check your previous bills. Under the Energy Retail Code you can request historical billing data for the previous two years from your energy retailer.

You will not be charged a fee if you request this data for the first time in a 12 month period. You can expect to receive this information within 10 business days from when you request this or by another agreed date. Smart meter billing information or data must be provided electronically. You can request your energy consumption profile from your retailer which you can upload into the Victorian Energy Compare website at https://compare.switchon.vic.gov.au

The Victorian Governments Switch On website (www.switchon.vic.gov.au) also offers advice, tools and tips to take charge of your power bill you can access this information at http://switchon.vic.gov.au/more-ways-to-save

How to reduce your energy bill

In Victoria there are many licensed energy retailers offering a range of energy contracts and plans. Their role is to sell you power and bill you for your energy usage.

You can choose your energy retailer based on the price and service that best suits you.
If you are unhappy with the prices charged by your energy retailer, shop around for a new contract.
If you have never moved premises or signed a contract with an energy retailer, you are likely to be on a standing contract, probably paying higher prices and missing out on discounts.

Most customers are on a market contract. Market contracts can offer you better value for money. Moving to a market contract, with your existing retailer or with a new retailer, will not affect the reliability or quality of your energy supply. If you change your mind, you have between a five and ten business days cooling-off period to cancel the contract. (Market contracts are the offers that energy retailers advertise). They may offer you a better price or some other benefit. They can be for a fixed period or can be on-going. You must agree to the price and other parts of the contract before it starts.
There are a number of pricing tariff structures available to consumers in Victoria, including:

Single rate: Single rate are subject to the same price at all times.

Two rate: A standard rate applies other than a lower off peak rate for a dedicated appliance eg: hot water billed on an off peak rate.

Time of use: Generally offer different rates for usage depending on the time of day. Typically these tariffs have a peak rate period (usually weekdays and evenings) and off peak rate (usually nights and weekends).

Flexible tariffs: Consist of different rates for usage at different times of the day, this is not limited to use of specific appliances. You can request additional information from your retailer about the flexible pricing options available. To take advantage of potential savings from flexible pricing, you need to have a smart meter installed that can be remotely read. For more information about flexible pricing, including an example of a flexible pricing plan and any potential savings resulting from changes in your consumption you can access the My Power Planner tool at the Victorian Government’s Switch On website (www.mpp.switchon.vic.gov.au) and speak to your retailer.

The range of tariffs available may be limited because of a number of factors, including meter and network configuration. Not all tariffs are available at all premises.

Before choosing your energy retailer:

  • decide what is important for you: price, green energy, service or special offers.
  • calculate how much you paid for electricity and gas over the last 12 months.
  • When choosing, make sure you understand the offer and the contract terms and conditions. Compare:
  • the supply charge, (fixed daily amount)
  • the price (tariff) you are paying for energy (how many cents per kWh or MJ)
  • discounts offered (e.g. 10% pay on time discount, confirm the charges to which the discount applies).
  • incentives on offer (e.g. shop credits, movie tickets, sporting club memberships)
  • contract period and payment options (e.g. direct debit, BPay, Centrepay, monthly billing)
  • price increase terms and whether you can fix the price for a certain period (often called a rate freeze, e.g. for 12 months).
  • any fees including early termination fees or incentive payback terms.
  • any fees for a paper bill or credit card payments.

Having trouble paying your bill?

Contact your energy retailer as soon as possible

If you are experiencing payment difficulties or believe you are likely to experience difficulty paying your bill/s whether short term or for a longer or on an ongoing basis, you must contact your energy retailer as soon as possible. Speak to your retailer about your options and any assistance which may be available.

This may include setting up a payment arrangement which can include:

Extension of time
You negotiate additional time to pay the account with your retailer a after the due date of the bill (e.g. an extra 14 days).

Payment plan
A payment plan will ordinarily allow you to make payments in advance towards the next bill, while also allowing you to pay any amount owing.

Case Study

Customer is unable to pay his bill by the due date

What your energy retailer must offer if you can't pay

Under the Energy Retail Code your energy retailer must offer you a payment plan if you have informed your retailer that you are experiencing payment difficulties.

You will not be eligible for a payment plan if you have had two payment plans cancelled in the previous 12 months due to non-payment or have been convicted of an offence involving the illegal use of energy in the previous two years.

Hardship
All energy retailers must have hardship policies and payment plans, including advice on government assistance. You can access details of the energy retailer’s hardship policies on their website. You can request details of your retailer’s hardship policies and discuss whether you are eligible for any assistance as part of your retailer’s hardship program.

You can also check your eligibility for rebates or concessions by contacting the Concession Information Line at the Department of Human Services (1800 658 521) or by visiting their website, www.dhs.vic.gov.au

Remember, if you have trouble paying a bill, contact your energy retailer. If you are on a direct debit arrangement, your energy retailer will deduct the full amount on the agreed debit date unless you notify them prior to the direct debit (provide adequate time to cancel the debit). If the funds are not available you are likely to be charged a default by both your retailer and your bank.

For further advice on how to manage your energy bill contact Moneyhelp on 1800 007 007. Moneyhelp provides confidential and free financial information to assist Victorians with managing debt, bills and ongoing expenses.

Case Study

Customer experiences difficulty paying her bills

Request a shorter billing cycle

Under the Energy Retail Code you have the right to negotiate a shorter billing cycle. For electricity and gas, a billing cycle of less than three months. This may assist your budgeting and enable you to pay your energy bill in smaller amounts. You may request bills be sent to you monthly.

Contact your energy retailer to request a shorter billing cycle and discuss if there are any additional fees for receiving your bill more often. Be sure to check the terms and conditions of these arrangements.

Complaints and resolving disputes

There are some simple steps you should follow for energy enquiries or complaints.

Understand your issue

Part of understanding your issue is to understand the content of your bill. Most energy retailers have information about understanding your bill on their websites, including a sample bill with explanations.

Read the information on this website and information provided by your energy retailer, before contacting them, so you are better informed to discuss the issue(s).

Under the Energy Retail Code, your energy retailer must include certain information on your bill so you can easily verify that the bill conforms to your energy contract. This includes your name and account number, your address, the meter identifier, a graph, meter readings (f you have a smart meter this is the index read at the end and the start of the billing period) and details of consumption for the billing period.

There are two charges for energy:

Supply charge
A fixed daily charge that includes the cost of transporting energy to you through gas pipes, or poles and wires (network infrastructure).

Usage charge (also known as the tariff)
The cost of the actual energy you use.

A kilowatt hour (kWh) is the unit that measures your usage. 1000 watts for one hour = one kilowatt hour.

The price you pay for usage is displayed in decimal dollars.

For example: 392 kWh @ $0.2658. This means 392 kWh were consumed at 26.58 cents per kWh. (Move the decimal point two numbers to the right).

Gas is measured in megajoules (MJ) and the tariff works the same way as for electricity.

Under the Energy Retail Code, your energy retailer must review your bill at your request. During the review, you must pay (whichever is lower):

  • the portion of the bill that both you and your energy retailer agree is not in dispute
    OR
  • an average amount of your bills over the past 12 months.

If you ignore the bill and don’t make any payment, your energy retailer is entitled to start proceedings to disconnect your energy supply. Contact your energy retailer if you are having trouble paying.

Always contact your energy retailer first

Your energy retailer is your first contact point for any energy query or complaint.

Prepare before you call your retailer. Have your bill in front of you and highlight important information. Be clear about what you need to find out or want to resolve your query. Determine what you can and can’t pay and what the disputed amounts are.

All energy retailers must take your complaint seriously and handle it in accordance with Australian Standards.

Retailer complaint handling procedures can be accessed on retailer websites. The procedures set out how your retailer will handle a complaint.

Keep records of conversations and copies of any written correspondence (dates, times and outcomes). This will be useful if you choose to take the complaint further with the Energy and Water Ombudsman Victoria (EWOV).

Not satisfied? Lodge a complaint with the Energy and Water Ombudsman Victoria

If you are dissatisfied with the way your energy retailer has handled your complaint or their response, you have the right to refer your complaint to EWOV.

Further information about EWOV and energy complaints is available on the EWOV website.

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