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Settlement Guide - Understanding your electricity bill

Anonymous hands using digital tablet to surf the net for better deals Source: Getty Images

Understanding your electricity bill is key to ensuring you're charged the correct amount. If you find mistakes on your bill or are not able to pay on time, there are ways to get help

Energy bills are slightly different from retailer to retailer, but you can find the same basic information on all of them.

Knowing how much you have to pay and when that payment is due is imperative.

The bill should also show the start and the end date of your billing period, how much electricity you've used, what tariff you're being charged, if you've got extra fees to pay and how to contact your retailer.

Your bill can also be used to inform you of a price change so it’s important to look at it carefully.

You can see examples of electricity bills and how to read them here and here.

You should receive your electricity bill every month or every three months. You have at least 13 days from the day the bill was issued to pay it. Some retailers offer pay-on-time discounts so you want to make sure to not miss that date if you want the discount.

A post office in Kemps Creek in Sydney
AAP Image/Brendan Esposito

How do I pay my bill?

There are different ways to pay your bill.

-You can pay by credit or debit card over the phone or online.

-You can pay in person at an Australian post office. You can also use your retailer’s payment card to make small regular payments at the post office.

-You can ask your retailer to set up regular payments to be debited from your account.

-If you receive Centrelink benefits, you can set up Centrepay so the money is directly taken out of your Centrelink payments.

What if I cannot pay my bill on time?

If you can’t pay your bill on time, don’t worry, you have options, but you need to contact your retailer immediately.

“Retailers are required to help customers who are having trouble paying their bill. So call your retailer to find out what assistance they can provide you” explains Paula Conboy, chair of the Australian Energy Regulator. “That might include an extension of time to pay. It might be putting you on a payment plan that you're able to meet or those bill smoothing arrangements. They also have access to their hardship program so if you are struggling to pay your bill, don't let it get out of hand. Make sure you call your retailer as soon as possible.”

Getty/MultifacetedGirl
Getty Images/MultifacetedGirl

There’s a mistake on my bill. What do I do?

If your bill is higher than usual and you think there’s a mistake, the first thing you should do is ask yourself if there’s a reason for it. Did you buy a new washing machine that uses more energy? Are you using the heater now that the temperatures are getting colder? Did you have family staying over for a few weeks?

If you can’t find a reason for the price difference, contact your retailer and ask for an explanation. If the first person you talk to can’t help you, ask to speak to a manager. Keep the names of the people you’ve talked to and what they’ve told you.

If the issues persist, you can contact your state’s energy ombudsman. Their services are free and independent. “We don't act on the customer's behalf and we don't act on the industry's behalf so we really try to work with both parties to come up with a fair and reasonable outcome” explains Cynthia Gebert, Victoria’s Energy and Water Ombudsman.

You can access interpreters for free when you call your electricity retailer and when you call your state’s energy ombudsman. Call the Translating and Interpreting Service first at 13 14 50.

These are the websites for the different states energy Ombudsman: Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia, Northern Territory, Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania.

Monitoring your electricity usage

If you don’t want to receive a massive electricity bill, it’s good to keep an eye on your usage. Many retailers have apps and online tools where you can monitor your usage daily.

If it's not available to you, you can monitor your usage yourself.You can also have an in-home device installed at your house to help you understand your usage. The other thing you can do is have a look at what your metre says on a particular day, what the reading is. Have a look again the next day and record how much you've used. And use that as an indicator of roughly how much you're going to use” says Cynthia Gebert.

You can find tips on saving energy here.

To find out more information on your electricity bill, electricity retailers and energy saving, visit the government’s Australian Energy Regulator's Energy Made Easy website.

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