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Estimated meter reads blowing out power bills

12 May, 2020
Estimated meter reads blowing out power bills Image

I’ve had a number of people get in contact with my team who have received hugely inflated power bills – one gentleman, who lives alone has received a bill three times the amount he usually pays. Another who’s bill said they’d had a 280% increase in usage since the same time last year.

Many of the electricity providers are issuing estimated bills due to COVID-19. When you have multiple people coming forward, saying their Bill is not even remotely close to what they would expect it to be, you have to question what the providers are doing.

I've asked the NSW Energy and Environment Minister to intervene on behalf of consumers.

I’m encouraging everyone, especially those with direct debits, to check their bills, to look at their historic usage – and if it doesn’t look right get in touch with the provider and request a self-meter read.

Information from the Energy and Water Ombudsman

Estimated and actual reads (energy providers)

The electricity, gas or water distributor for the area is responsible for reading the meter and sending the meter data to the retailer. If the meter reader is not able to access the meter (e.g. due to a locked gate, or a dog in the yard), the distributor will provide the retailer with an ‘estimated’ read, usually based on the customer’s past usage. 

According to the National Energy Retail Rules (Clause 21), if there is no access to the meter a provider must advise the customer on the bill that the account has been estimated.

After the next actual meter read, the customer’s bill will be adjusted for any usage above or below the estimate. 

If the estimated bill was overcharged the customer may notice the next bill based on an actual meter read is a little bit less than their usual bills. 

If the estimated bill was undercharged the customer may notice the next bill based on an actual meter read is higher than their usual bills. If a customer needs time to pay the amount of the bill they can request this from the provider. The provider must offer the customer the opportunity to pay the amount in instalments over a period of up to 12 months, if the customer asks. 

Self reads

After a small customer with an electricity accumulation meter or gas meter receives an account based on an estimated reading, they can ask their retailer to adjust the bill by providing their own read of the meter. Self reads must be in accordance with the retailer’s guidance and requirements and the retailer must receive the read before the account’s due date. If the read is not accepted, the retailer must notify the customer and explain why.  

Special meter reading fee

If a customer is concerned that their bill is high and they believe their meter reading is incorrect, they can ask their retailer for a special meter read. The retailer is able to charge the customer a special meter reading fee if the special reading shows that the original reading was correct. This fee can only be charged after the special reading has taken place.

Help paying your bill

If you require help paying your bill (once you've established its the right amount) there are a range of rebates and concessions available to energy and water customers. 

NSW Government Rebates

The NSW Government funds a number of rebate programs for electricity and gas customers, including:

  • NSW Family Energy Rebate
  • Low Income Household Rebate
  • NSW Gas Rebate
  • Life Support Rebate
  • Medical Energy Rebate
  • Seniors Energy Rebate.

You can also apply for all NSW rebates except the Family Energy Rebate through your electricity supplier.

The NSW Government also fund the Energy Accounts Payment Assistance (EAPA) program.

EAPA is designed to help people who are having trouble paying their home electricity and/or gas bill because of a crisis or emergency situation. The Scheme helps people in these situations to stay connected.

EAPA vouchers are sent electronically to your energy retailer and used to credit your home electricity or gas account.

You can apply for EAPA online through Service NSW or call 13 77 88.

Federal Government Payments and Allowances

Utilities Allowance

The Utilities Allowance is a Federal Government quarterly payment to help with household bills. It is available to people who are on the Disability Support Pension and under 21 years of age with no dependent children, and those on the Partner Allowance or Widow Allowance. For more information contact Services Australia (formerly Human Services).

Essential Medical Equipment Payment

To be eligible for the Essential Medical Equipment Payment, Commonwealth Concession Card holders must provide proof that the specific equipment or heating/cooling is medically required. The rebate will be automatically paid each year once an application is accepted, so customers need to reapply if their personal circumstances change. Please note that this payment can be claimed for a wider range of equipment than is covered by the NSW State Government's Life Support and Medical Rebate schemes, including insulin pumps, electric wheelchairs and airbed vibrators. See if you're eligible here.

Making a complaint about your provider

If the problem is not fixed after you've spoken to your provider or you’re not satisfied with their response, you can make a complaint to Energy and Water Ombudsman. 

 

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