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Seniors' guide to energy saving

Tips for managing your energy bills

Two women paying bills

©iStockphoto.com

If you’ve ever received an unexpectedly high energy bill you’ll know the stress this can put on the household budget. There are a number of options to help you better manage energy payments and ensure you’re getting the best deal for your circumstances.

How do I choose the best energy contract for me?

One way to reduce bill stress is to shop around to see if you’re getting the best deal for your particular energy needs.

In most states and territories [except Tasmania, the Northern Territory, Western Australia—and in Queensland areas outside South East Queensland] you have a choice of which energy retailer to go with. In areas where there is only one energy retailer, it’s important to make sure you’re on the contract that is most suitable for the way your household uses energy.

There are many energy offers available, which can be confusing. You should start by understanding how much energy you use and noting the times of day you are using it. You can follow our checklist for comparing offers and use the recommended calculator or comparison tool for your state or territory to help you make your decision. Visit EnergyMadeEasy.gov.au for more information and to find out the average electricity usage for a household of your size in your area. If you’d like assistance comparing offers, you can call the Australian Energy Regulator Infoline on 1300 585 165. Keep in mind switching energy retailer can help to lower your contract costs but it won't lower your energy use.

Off peak and time-of-use pricing

If you choose an energy contract where you’re rewarded for moving some of your energy away from peak times (usually 3pm to 9pm in the evenings when demand on the electricity network is at its highest) you may be able to maximise savings. Retirees may, for example, be able to move their washing and cooking times to during the day, but remember when you’re likely to run heating and cooling systems before deciding what is best for your household. If you choose a contract that doesn’t suit your household or lifestyle you could end up paying more. Having an interval or smart meter installed can help you get a more detailed picture of your energy use so that you can make more informed decisions on how you alter household behaviours to save energy and money.

Energy bill essentials

Energy is an essential service and there are laws in place to provide customer safeguards.

If you have agreed (verbally or in writing) to a market retail energy contract with an energy retailer, they must provide you with a printed summary of their contract offer. The product disclosure statement, known as an Energy Price Fact Sheet, is required to include the following information:

  • all applicable prices
  • charges
  • early termination payments and penalties
  • date and duration of the contract
  • billing and payment information.

 It’s important you read and understand all the terms and conditions of your contract as it will contain information about the price you pay for energy, any fees and charges that may apply to you, the duration of the contract, and other important information relating to your rights and obligations as an energy customer.

To avoid any unpleasant surprises down the track, make sure you’re aware of all the terms and conditions of the retail energy contract before you agree to it. Asking a trusted family member or friend to help you review the details can be helpful.

Any time you enter a new contract you have a 10 business day ‘cooling off’ period in which you can decide not to go ahead without being charged a fee. If you change your mind, contact your energy company immediately.

What if I think my bill is wrong?

If you think your bill is incorrect you should contact your energy retailer immediately. An energy retailer must review a bill if requested by a customer. If you’re still not happy, you can talk to the energy ombudsman in your state or territory. An ombudsman is a free and independent dispute resolution service. A full list is provided at the end of this guide, or you can get more information from the Australian Energy Regulator online or by calling 1300 585 165.

What if I get a disconnection notice?

A disconnection notice can be sent from your energy retailer for a range of reasons, but most commonly it will be caused by an issue with your bill payment. There are some restrictions on when disconnections can occur. For example, in most circumstances you cannot be disconnected during a protected period, such as on a weekend or public holiday. There are also additional provisions that limit disconnections for customers experiencing hardship and those premises registered as having life support equipment. If you receive a disconnection notice, you should contact your energy retailer immediately to discuss your options. Their contact details will be on the disconnection notice.

What if I’m having difficulty paying my bill?

Some states and territories have help for people having difficulty managing energy bills, or for people with specific medical or mobility issues. For example, you may be eligible for the Essential Medical Equipment Payment.

Your energy retailer should also have a hardship policy for those people experiencing financial difficulties. If you think you will be unable to pay your bill on time or have had difficulty paying a bill in the past, you should contact your energy company by phone or email as early as possible to discuss how they can help you. You can request a copy of your energy retailer’s hardship policy which they must provide to you upon request.

If you’re on a fixed income you can arrange with your energy retailer to have smaller amounts regularly deducted – usually weekly, fortnightly or monthly. If you’re receiving a payment from Centrelink ask about the free Centrepay service to help you to better manage your finances, spreading out the costs of seasonal changes to your energy use. The MoneySmart budget planner can also help with managing costs.

To find out more information on what assistance you can receive contact your energy retailer or the state or territory government department responsible for energy in your area. You can also use our rebate searcher on yourenergysavings.gov.au. This has up-to-date summaries of all energy and sustainability rebates offered by the Australian and state and territory governments.

The EnergyMadeEasy website also has a range of information to assist you if you have a complaint or are experiencing difficulties.

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