Financial wellbeing

Electricity and gas bills

Couple reading their energy bill

Need help reading an electricity bill?

To read an electricity bill, it can be helpful to understand some of the common terms, fees and charges. The Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy website has information that explains electricity prices and tariffs in Queensland.

The Energy and Water Ombudsman Queensland website explains the common tariffs, fees and charges found on electricity, gas and water bills in Queensland.

While some information on electricity bills is standard, the layout and terminology may differ between electricity retailers. Some retailers provide advice on how to read their electricity bills. Visit the retailers’ websites to find out more:

Can’t pay an electricity or gas bill?

Australians who are having difficulty paying their energy bills should get in touch with their retailer and seek the protection they are legally entitled to.

Energy retailers are obliged to implement new customer hardship policies that provide clearer and better assistance to customers experiencing financial difficulty.

The Australian Energy Regulator’s (AER) Customer Hardship Policy Guideline requires retailers to ensure hardship programs are easily accessible to customers and that standard statements explaining how they will help customers are included in their policies.

The AER has useful advice to support customers that are having trouble paying their energy bills due to hardship.

What to do if you can’t pay your bill

If you or your client is having issues paying their energy bills here is a list of helpful tips:

1. Contact the retailer

There is assistance available through the electricity or gas retailer. It is important to contact them as soon as possible if your client is experiencing financial difficulty.

Before making the call, help your client prepare by:

Making sure they understand their rights. Refer to these tips to make sure you understand your client’s rights.

Considering their budget. Help your client to work out how much they can afford to pay immediately towards the bill, and then how much they could afford to pay on an ongoing weekly or fortnightly basis.

Helping them make the call. You can speak to the retailer on your client’s behalf if they wish. Your client will need to be present to identify themselves as the account holder, or provide written permission for the retailer to speak to you.

2. Ask for the hardship team

In addition to negotiating a payment plan, retailers must also have a financial hardship policy to provide individualised support for customers who are experiencing payment difficulty. Depending on the retailer, a hardship program may include incentive payments, energy efficiency audits or financial counselling advice.

To access this support, ask to speak to the retailer’s hardship team. When trying to access to the hardship program, it can be useful to use the name of the program for that particular retailer. Also, some retailers provide a dedicated phone line for financial counsellors and community sector support workers to access the hardship team directly. This can help save you time and ensure you can get timely assistance for your client.

Visit the retailers’ websites for details about the hardship programs provided.

Ergon Energy Customer Assist Program

Origin Energy Power On Program

AGL Staying Connected Program

EnergyAustralia EnergyAssist Program

Click Energy Financial Hardship Policy

Dodo Power and Gas Customer Hardship Policy

QEnergy Staying ON Hardship Program

Sanctuary Energy Customer Hardship Assistance Program

Diamond Energy Residential Customer Hardship Policy

Momentum Energy Hardship Policy

Red Energy Hardship Policy

Simply Energy Hardship Policy

3. Ask about concessions

Make sure your client is receiving all the concessions they are eligible for.

The Queensland Government provides a number of concessions to reduce the costs of electricity and gas for people who meet certain eligibility criteria.

Electricity Rebate: This rebate is available to customers who hold a Pensioner Concession Card, Queensland Seniors Card, Department of Veterans’ Affairs Gold Card, Health Care Card or Asylum Seekers with an ImmiCard. The payment is made to the energy retailer who deducts the discount from the electricity bill. Visit the Queensland Government website for information on the current rebate amounts, eligibility criteria and how to apply.

Reticulated Natural Gas Rebate: This rebate is available to customers who are connected to the reticulated natural gas network and who hold a Pensioner Concession Card, Queensland Seniors Card or Department of Veterans’ Affairs Gold Card. The payment is made to the gas retailer who deducts the discount from the gas bill. Visit the Queensland Government website for information on the current rebate amounts, eligibility criteria and how to apply.

Medical Heating and Cooling Concession Scheme: This concession helps people who have a chronic medical condition that requires the use of an air-conditioner for cooling or heating in order to manage their condition. The payment is made directly into the nominated bank account each quarter. Visit the Queensland Government website for information on the current rebate amount, eligibility criteria and how to apply.

Life Support Rebate: People who use oxygen concentrators or kidney dialysis machines supplied by Queensland Health may be eligible for this concession to help them manage the electricity costs associated with running these machines. Application forms are sent to eligible users within 14 days of receiving their machines. Information on the current rebate amounts, eligibility criteria and how to apply is available on the Queensland Government website.

For more information on any of these concessions, visit the Queensland Government website or contact the Queensland Government by calling 13 74 68 or emailing [email protected].

The Australian Government also provides an Essential Medical Equipment Payment. This payment helps with the additional costs of running essential medical equipment or medically-required heating or cooling (or both) to manage a disability or medical equipment. The payment must be claimed through Centrelink. Visit the Department of Human Services website for more information.

4. Negotiate a payment plan

The National Energy Customer Framework (NECF) requires electricity retailers to offer instalment plans to customers who inform them that they are experiencing payment difficulties.

When negotiating instalment plans, retailers are required to take into account the customer’s financial capacity to pay and the cost of their estimated ongoing electricity usage needs. The amount of the instalments should cover the existing debt owed as well as the cost of estimated ongoing usage.

Before your client agrees to a payment plan:

  • Help them to work out how much they can realistically afford to pay each week, fortnight or month. Make sure they will have enough left to cover other essential expenses, such as rent, food and medical expenses.
  • Confirm that they can afford to meet all the payments over the time period, and that they have an arrangement in place to make the payments on a regular basis.
  • Check with the retailer that the payments are enough to repay the debt and also cover the cost of their ongoing bills. If this is not possible, the client will need additional support so they don’t fall further behind.

The requirement for retailers to offer a payment plan does not apply if a customer has had two payment plans cancelled due to non-payment within the last 12 months. The retailer may still offer one, but they are not obligated to do so. That is why it is important not to agree to a payment plan that is not affordable.

If your client’s circumstances change, or they have already agreed to a payment plan they can’t afford, contact the retailer as soon as possible.

5. Set up regular payment arrangements

Making more regular payments can help avoid building up a large debt, making future bills easier to manage.

If your client receives a Centrelink income, they can access Centrepay to make automatic deductions to help pay electricity and gas bills in smaller instalments.

Many retailers also offer other options such as monthly billing, bill smoothing or direct debit. Contact the electricity or gas retailer to see what alternative payment arrangement they can offer.

6. Contact a free Financial Counsellor

Financial counselling is a free, independent and confidential service to help people who are in financial difficulty. Call 1800 007 007 or visit the Financial Counselling Australia website to find a Financial Counsellor in your area.

7. Apply for the Home Energy Emergency Assistance Scheme (HEEAS)

The Queensland Government’s Home Energy Emergency Assistance Scheme (HEEAS) offers a one-off payment of up to $720 for Queensland customers who are unable to pay their electricity or gas bill due to a short-term financial crisis.

To be eligible, your client must be able to demonstrate that in the last 12 months:

  • Their household income has substantially decreased – for example, due to job loss, decrease in work hours, family separation, or unexpected illness, injury or disability; OR
  • They have experienced high unexpected expenses on essential items – for example, replacing or repairing their fridge, washing machine or hot water system, car repairs, direct funeral expenses, removalist expenses or once-off medical expenses not covered by Medicare.

The energy retailer can email or post the HEEAS application form upon request, or you can download a HEEAS application form. Even if you download the form online, you still need to contact the retailer to obtain a reference number before the application will be accepted.

Call 13 74 68 or visit the Queensland Government website for information.

8. Find ways to reduce energy costs

Energy retailers can provide information on how to reduce energy costs.

Read our energy efficiency tips or visit Energy Made Easy.

9. Upgrade appliances

Old and inefficient appliances such as fridges and air-conditioners can be costly to run. Your client may be eligible to apply for a no-interest loan (NILS) to upgrade to a newer, more energy-efficient model to help them save money.

10. Ask for a discount

If your client lives in South East Queensland, they have a choice of electricity and gas offers. Ask the retailer if they can offer a discount or negotiate a better price. You can also compare and search for an energy offer on the Energy Made Easy website.

11. Take further action

Customers who encounter difficulties in dealing with an energy company, or getting access to the assistance they are entitled to, can lodge a complaint with the Energy and Water Ombudsman Queensland. Call 1800 662 837 or visit the Energy and Water Ombudsman Queensland.

Disconnection for non-payment

If you have received a disconnection notice

If you or your client have received a disconnection notice, it is important to contact the retailer straight away. Retailers can offer payment plans and other hardship assistance to customers who are experiencing payment difficulties.

If you have been disconnected from supply

Under the National Energy Customer Framework (NECF), there are certain steps that retailers must follow prior to disconnecting a customer for non-payment.

Prior to arranging for disconnection, the retailer must:

  • Send you a bill setting out the amount you owe, when you must pay this amount by and how you can pay it.
  • If you don’t pay in full by the due date, the retailer will send you a reminder notice. Your retailer will also send you a reminder notice if you have agreed to a payment plan and have not made your payments as agreed.
  • If you don’t pay within the time period on the reminder notice, your retailer will send you a disconnection warning notice.
  • Once your retailer has sent you a disconnection warning notice, your retailer must use their best endeavours to contact the customer by telephone, mail, fax, or email, and offer alternative payment options and information on concessions, rebates or grants to which the customer may be entitled.

Note: If you receive a reminder notice or disconnection warning notice for two consecutive bills, the retailer may place you on a shortened collection cycle. This means that the retailer is not required to send a reminder notice prior to issuing a disconnection warning. From that point, all the standard disconnection processes apply. To be removed from the shortened collection cycle, you must pay three consecutive bills by the due date.

If the customer has not taken steps to rectify the reason for disconnection, or has not accepted an offer of an alternative payment option or taken reasonable steps towards settling the debt before the end of the warning period, the retailer may arrange for their electricity supply to be disconnected. There are, however, some circumstances when they must not arrange disconnection. The National Energy Customer Framework (NECF) prohibits a retailer from arranging disconnection:

  • For non-payment of an outstanding balance which is less than a threshold amount (currently $300), where the customer has agreed to repay the outstanding amount.
  • At particular times, including on a Friday, weekend, public holiday or the day before a public holiday, between 20 and 31 December, and before 8:00am or after 3:00pm on a business day.
  • Where the retailer has been provided with confirmation from a medical practitioner or hospital that a person residing at the premises is dependent on life support equipment.
  • When the customer has an application for assistance from agencies administering relevant concessions, rebates and grants under consideration.
  • When the customer has an unresolved complaint lodged with the Energy and Water Ombudsman Queensland, which is directly related to the reason for disconnection.
  • For non-payment of charges relating to goods and services other than the sale of electricity to the premises.

Retailers may also arrange for disconnection of electricity if the customer has not allowed access to their meter for three consecutive scheduled meter readings, has used electricity illegally, has refused to pay a security deposit, or has refused or failed to provide acceptable identification when requested by the retailer. Except for circumstances where electricity has been consumed illegally, the retailer is required to provide a written warning giving at least five business days notice of disconnection.

If a customer’s electricity is disconnected and the required disconnection procedure has not been followed, they may be eligible for a payment for wrongful disconnection under the guaranteed service levels (GSL) provisions. There is no guaranteed service level scheme for gas.

Arranging reconnection

If you have been disconnected for non-payment and want to reconnected, you must contact your retailer within 10 business days of the disconnection and make arrangements to pay the outstanding amount on your bill. There may also be a fee charged for reconnecting your service. If you are unable to pay the full amount owing, you may enter into a payment plan or access other assistance available to customer’s experiencing financial difficulties. See Can’t pay an electricity or gas bill for more information.

Reducing your energy costs

Electricity and gas bills include both a fixed daily supply charge and a usage charge which varies depending on how much you use. While there’s not much you can do to minimise the fixed charges, there are options which may help to reduce the total bill. Here are some tips on what you might do to manage a high electricity bill, or prevent high electricity bills in the future.

Reduce energy usage

Under the National Energy Customer Framework, retailers must provide general information on how to reduce electricity costs and advice on the typical running costs of major domestic appliances – if requested.

There are also lots of energy saving tips, advice and other tools available online that are specific to Queensland. Visit the following websites for advice, checklists and other resources to help you save money on your electricity bills:

Upgrade appliances

One way to reduce electricity usage is to replace old, inefficient appliances such as fridges or washing machines, with newer, more energy efficiency models. Old or inefficient appliances cost more to run. Interest-free or low-interest loans are available through No Interest Loan Scheme (NILS) and Step-Up Loans. These programs can help you buy a new appliance and pay it off over time.

Connect to controlled load tariffs

Many Queensland households have their hot water system or pool filtration system connected to an off-peak tariff (also called an ‘economy’ tariff or ‘controlled load’ tariff). These tariffs mean the appliances connected to them are not able to be run 24 hours a day, but instead are only able to run for certain off-peak times (outside 4:00pm to 8:00pm). In exchange for not using electricity 24 hours a day, customers receive a cheaper price for the electricity these appliances use.

There are two off-peak tariff options in Queensland:

  • Tariff 31, which runs for around eight hours a day (overnight only); and
  • Tariff 33, which runs for 18 hours a day (outside the 4:00 to 8:00pm peak time).

For more information on controlled load tariffs, visit Energex (if you are in South East Queensland) or Ergon Energy (if you are in regional Queensland) – or contact your retailer for more information.

Check for faults

High energy bills may also result from a billing error, or when previous bills have been estimated because the meter could not be accessed. It could also be a sign of a faulty meter or gas leak. Visit the Energy and Water Ombudsman Queensland website for information on reading your electricity or gas meter.

Customers who identify an error or fault are advised to contact their retailer in the first instance to resolve this issue. Customers who are unable resolve a dispute, can lodge a complaint with the Energy and Water Ombudsman Queensland. For more information, call 1800 662 837 or visit the Energy and Water Ombudsman Queensland website.

More information on reducing energy costs

Customers who have reduced their electricity usage and are still struggling to meet their energy costs should contact their retailer for assistance.

Comparing energy offers

Customers in South East Queensland (SEQ) have a choice of electricity deals offered by different companies. Here are some questions customers should think about when comparing electricity offers in a competitive market.

Understand your current offer

Before you can work out whether you might be better offer with another retailer or plan, you need to understand their current offer. Some questions to ask include:

  • How much electricity do you use?
  • What tariffs are you on?
  • What tariff prices do you pay?
  • What other fees and charges apply?
  • Is there a minimum notice period or exit fee involved if you switch retailers?
  • Do you have a gas contract as well and is there a dual fuel discount?
  • Do you have solar panels and how much are your solar feed-in tariff payments?

Use free comparison tools

The easiest way to shop around is use the comparison tools available online. The Energy Made Easy website managed by the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) makes it easy to compare offers by showing all offers in your area, estimating an annual bill for each offer and letting you compare up to three offers at the same time. To compare offers it helps to have at least one recent bill available or have an idea of how much energy the household uses.

Other commerical online price comparators are available which can provide additional information or estimates based on average Australian usage figures for cusotmers who do not have a bill or idea of their household usage. Be aware that these comparison services may not include all retailers or all offers that may be available, and may not have the most up-to-date information.

Asking the right questions

Before you agree to sign up to a new deal, there are a number of variables to consider and compare. Here are some important questions to ask to make sure the offer being considered is suitable.

  • Which tariffs does the discount apply to?
  • Does the discount apply to the whole tariff price or just part of it?
  • Is the discount applied before or after concessions are deducted?
  • Does the discount or quoted price refer to prices before or after GST?
  • Are there special conditions and can you meet them?
  • Do you need a special membership to qualify for the discount?
  • Do you have to pay your bills on time to get the discount?
  • Are there any late fees or other charges?
  • Can you pay by your preferred payment method and is there a transaction cost?
  • Will you be locked into a fixed-term contract and if so how much is the exit fee?
  • Do you have any debt you need to pay off with your current retailer first?
  • What kind of customer service are you looking for?
  • What is offered under the retailer’s financial hardship policy?

Marketing practices

A customer may be contacted in person, by telephone, or by mail by marketers or salespeople offering a market contract. However customers have the right to request the marketers to leave or refuse their offers at any time.

Under rules set out in the respective industry codes, electricity and gas retailers are responsible for the conduct of any person carrying out marketing on their behalf. Marketers must not contact customers outside of prescribed times, must identify themselves and the retailer they represent, and must provide accurate and comprehensible information. The Energy and Water Ombudsman Queensland website provides further information about the responsibilities of marketers and tips for dealing with marketers.

Energy retailers are required to have processes for dealing with disputes about marketers. A customer who has a complaint about a salesperson should contact the retailer first. If the matter is not satisfactorily resolved a complaint can be made to the Energy and Water Ombudsman Queensland.

Rights and responsibilities for customers who transfer

Electricity concessions do not automatically transfer across when a customer switches retailers. Recipients of concessions must re-apply through their new retailer.

Customers who change their mind after agreeing to a new contract have a cooling-off period of 10 days to cancel the new contract without penalty.

Customers who encounter difficulties dealing with an energy company, or are unable to resolve a dispute, can lodge a complaint with the Energy and Water Ombudsman Queensland. For more information, call 1800 662 837 or visit the Energy and Water Ombudsman Queensland website.

Making a complaint

Difficulties dealing with a retailer

If you need to contact your energy provider about a problem, there are some steps that may help to resolve the issue. These include:

  • Know the rights and responsibilities that apply to customers and suppliers. This can be useful in negotiating with a supplier. Information about consumer protections in Queensland are set out in the National Energy Customer Framework.
  • If you do not get a satisfactory outcome by speaking to frontline call centre staff, ask for a supervisor or senior customer service representative.
  • Always keep a record when you speak with your energy retailer. It can be useful to write down: the time of the call, the name of the operator, the call reference number and a brief description of the issues and the outcome. This information is helpful if your retailer or the Energy and Water Ombudsman Queensland need to investigate your account in the future.

Making a complaint

Complaints about an electricity or gas service or supply should be directed to the relevant electricity or gas retailer in the first instance.

If you encounter difficulties dealing with an energy company, or are unable to resolve a dispute, you can lodge a complaint with the Energy and Water Ombudsman Queensland. For more information, call 1800 662 837 or visit the Energy and Water Ombudsman Queensland website.

There are some issues the Energy and Water Ombudsman Queensland cannot investigate, such as bulk hot water problems or disputes with an on-seller. Visit the Energy and Water Complaints portal to find out which agency is responsible for handling your complaint.

Guaranteed Service Level (GSL) payments

If you have a complaint about your electricity distributor (not your retailer), you may be eligible for a compensation payment known as Guaranteed Service Level (GSL) payment. GSL payments may apply in the following circumstances:

  • If you have been wrongfully disconnected
  • If a new connection has not been made on time
  • If your reconnection has not been completed within the prescribed timeframe
  • If your electricity distributor fails to attend a premises in response to an inquiry about loss of hot water supply within the prescribed timeframe
  • If your distributor makes an appointment to attend your premises and does not attend within the specified time period
  • If there is a planned interruption without at least two business days’ notice being given
  • If the number of unplanned interruptions occurring in one financial year exceeds a set number (excluding certain types of interruptions).

For more information about GSL payments and how to make a claim, visit the Energex and Ergon Energy websites.

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