Energy Bills: Gas and Electricity Bills, How to Read Your Bill, and How to Pay Your Bill
Energy bills are part of life. While there are ways to lower your energy bills, through finding a better deal with a new electricity or gas provider, or using less energy, they will always be a necessary payment. Find out more information about receiving, paying, and finding financial help with your energy bills by reading below.
How will I receive my energy bill?
Traditionally, electricity and gas bills are sent through the post. With the cost of paper mail increasing, however, more and more energy retailers are opting for e-billing. While most of the big energy retailers, and some of the smaller ones, still offer bills by post, these retailers might have incentives to push their customers to opt for e-billing. These can be incentives such as offering steeper discounts for customers who choose e-billing, or charges of up to $3 or even more for bills sent by post.
Choosing e-billing can be a cheaper and more convenient option for energy customers, and help save the planet by reducing the use of paper. E-bills are also less likely to get lost or go missing, as they will always be right there for your records in your email’s inbox and you won’t need to worry about your bill being late and having less time to pay it.
How to read an energy bill
Energy bills look different depending on your energy provider. However, all electricity and gas bills generally contain the same basic information*, making it easy to read your bill once you know what to look for. Electricity and gas bills will have:
Name, address, date of the bill, and meter number (NMI) which should match the number on the meter connected to your house
Amount owed, credits received or outstanding payments, and when the bill is due
Billing period: Traditionally done quarterly but more and more providers are giving customers the option to receive their bills more frequently to avoid bill shock
The meter reading used to calculate your bill in kWh for electricity and MJ for gas. If your bill is based on an estimate then it will be stated on your bill
The cents per kWh or MJ and the daily supply charge
Other charges such as GreenPower
Other rebates such as solar feed-in-tariffs or concessions
Some providers might also offer insights into your energy usage. This could include information comparing your energy usage from the same period of time last year to your current bill, information comparing your energy usage to other homes nearby, or whether you might save more switching to a different plan with your provider.
It’s important to remember that many smaller energy retailers are doing away with traditional methods of purchasing and paying for the energy you use, and every provider is different. Pay-as-you-go, wholesale, or other methods of paying for and receiving energy are becoming increasingly popular. Check your household’s energy retailer for more information about their billing and payment methods.
How to pay my energy bill: Online, over the phone, by mail, and more
There are a number of ways to pay your energy bill, but each energy retailer is different, so it’s best to check with your provider to see what methods they have to pay your bill. Common payment methods include:
Paying online with a credit or debit card either through a secure link, or on your energy retailers My Account page when you receive your bill (Pay upon receipt)
Pay by post by sending in a cheque or money order to the address your energy retailer provides
PostBillPay allows you to pay your bill in person at any post office, over the phone by dialling 13 18 16, or online, through the AusPost
BPay: Your energy provider will give you a unique reference number or account number, along with their BPay Biller Code on your bill or invoice, which you can use to pay through your financial institution
Paying over the phone: Your energy provider might have a secure phone number you can call to pay your bill over the phone with either credit or debit card, often available 24/7
Direct debit or credit: You can set up direct debit or credit which gives your energy retailer permission to directly take the amount you owe on your bill from your account
Centrelink: Centrelink users can opt to have their energy retailer be paid directly from their Centrelink account
While there is no one correct payment method, it’s important to remember that many retailers offer conditional discounts towards your energy bill if you pay on time and/or opt for direct debit. If you set up direct debit, then you won’t need to worry about paying your bill on time as long as your account has the funds for it, and you might get a nice discount off your bill.
What if my energy bill is wrong?
Energy bills usually come out every three months, when your meter gets read by your energy distributor. Sometimes, your electricity or gas bills are wrong; maybe you were undercharged or maybe you were overcharged. There can be a number of reasons this happens, and more often than not they are quite easy to solve. Usually, this happens because the energy distributor could not read your meter (generally due to a broken meter or difficult access) and you were given an estimate on your bill. When your energy retailer gives you an estimate on your bill, they generally look at:
Your bill for the same period of time last year
Look at the bill for a similar customer
If this happens, you might have an “E” next to your usage charges, indicating that it’s an estimated bill.
If you have a smart meter, or the option of SmoothPay, your bills might come out more often than every three months. You could have the option to pay your bills weekly, every two weeks, or monthly, depending on your provider. Some energy providers let you pay the same amount every week/fortnight/month, and will give you the remaining total for your quarterly energy bill when your meter is read. In this case, if you overpaid on your smaller estimates you will have a reduced bill or credit towards your next bill. If you didn’t pay enough, then you’ll need to pay the difference.
It’s always important to remember that if you cannot resolve a billing dispute with your energy provider, you can contact your state’s energy Ombudsmen to escalate the problem.
My energy bill was too high
If your energy provider sends you a bill and the amount is too high for the energy you used, then your provider overcharged you. If this happens, one of two things can be done to resolve it.
If your energy provider overcharged you by $50 or more, then you can request they either take the overcharged amount off your next bill or send you a refund for the amount.
If your energy provider overcharged you by less than $50, then the overcharged amount will go towards your next bill.
My energy bill was too low
If your energy provider sends you a bill that is too low for the energy you used, then your provider undercharged you. If this happens, there could be a number of reasons why and more often than not your next bill will be higher to reflect the amount you weren’t charged for.
If your retailer undercharged you, and it’s their fault (likely due to a computer error or billing system), then you will only owe them the difference for the last nine months. For example: If your bills were $10 lower than they should be, every month for one year, you only owe $90 in total, not $120.
If your retailer undercharged you due to issues with reading your meter and they needed to estimate, then you will owe everything they undercharged you for, for the total amount of time you were undercharged. For example: If your bills were $10 lower than they should be, every month for one year, you would owe all $120 because it was not an error on the part of the energy retailer.
If you were undercharged on your bills, you won’t need to pay back everything at once. Depending on how long you were undercharged for will affect how long you have to pay back what you owe.
If you were undercharged for 12 months or more, you will have 12 months to pay back what you owe. If, for example, your energy provider undercharged you for 13 months, you would still have 12 months to pay it back.
If you were undercharged for less than 12 months, then however many months they undercharged you is how many months you have to pay back what you owe. If you were undercharged for six months, you’d have six months to pay it back.
What if I have trouble paying my bill?
Sometimes, life gets in the way and you might have trouble paying your energy bills. Thankfully, according to the National Retail Energy Laws, your gas or electricity retailer must assist you if you’re having difficulty paying your bills so if you know you might have difficulty paying, contact your energy provider immediately to find out what assistance is available to you.
Most retailers have different options available to help those in need of assistance with paying their bills and disconnecting your energy supply will only be used as a last resort. Some of these options include:
- Payment extensions: If this is a one-off problem, for whatever reason, ask your retailer for more time to pay your bill
- A payment plan: If you are behind on your bills, or one was exceptionally high, you might qualify for a payment plan to pay your bills in installments. If this happens, you and your provider will discuss what you owe and how much you can pay, how often you can pay it, and how much energy you use. However, if you fall behind on a payment plan your energy provider might disconnect your energy supply.
- Hardship programmes: These go beyond a payment plan to include assistance in lowering your energy bill, switching to a cheaper plan, offering financial counselling, and signing up for concessions and rebates (including Centrelink)
- Government concessions and rebates: If you are unable to work or a low-income earner, have a medical condition, or are on a pension, you could be eligible for financial assistance from the government. Your retailer will be able to help you find out which rebates or concessions you are eligible for.
Financial CounsellingFinancial counselors in Australia are free to talk to if you find yourself in a time of hardship. These independent advisors will help you figure out your options, and might be able to help you speak to your energy provider. To get in touch with a financial counselor contact 1800 007 007
Before an energy retailer disconnects your property due to not paying your bill or following your payment plan, they must go through some steps before disconnecting. Your energy retailer will need to:
- Disconnecting your energy
- Send you a reminder to pay any outstanding balance owed
- Send a disconnection warning, letting you know your property will be disconnected from its energy supply
- Attempt to speak with you before disconnection
If your energy is being disconnected, retailers have certain guidelines they must follow as to when your energy will be disconnected. Under the National Retail Energy Law, providers cannot disconnect you on business days before 8am and after 3pm, the day before or the day of a public holiday, between December 20th and December 31st, during extreme weather conditions, if you already came to an agreement with the retailer and the amount owed is under the amount approved by the AER.
Under certain circumstances, you might need to get in touch with your state’s Ombudsmen. You should contact your Ombudsmen if you and your retailer cannot agree on a payment plan or you cannot afford the payment plan your retailer is asking for, if your retailer will not give you a payment plan, or if your energy has been disconnected unfairly or by mistake.
Domestic ViolenceMany energy companies have a domestic violence policy. If your ability to pay your energy bill, or anything else relating to your energy usage, is affected by domestic violence your energy retailer might offer confidential help during these circumstances.