Dispute your energy bill? Here’s what to do

Bill shock is a growing issue for many Australians, making it crucial to understand your options when disputing your electricity or gas bill.

Receiving a higher-than-expected power bill can be disheartening. Many Australians may be unaware that estimated gas and electricity bills, a common practice in recent years, could lead to overcharges.

Energy is a vital service, and laws are in place to ensure everyone has access to it, providing consistent protections for consumers.

If you reside in the ACT, NSW, Queensland, South Australia, or Tasmania, you're covered by the National Energy Customer Framework (NECF). In the Northern Territory, Victoria, and Western Australia, consumer protections are provided through local legislation.

If you believe your bill is incorrect, read on to learn what you should do.

What is an ‘estimated bill’?

Some disputes over energy bills come from the shock of an ‘estimated bill’, but what does that even mean?

An estimated bill is essentially an educated guess of your energy usage. Instead of using an actual meter reading, it’s often calculated based on your usage from the same period last year. Some companies may also use data from similar customers to estimate your usage.

A retailer might issue a bill based on estimated energy usage if it is unable to access your meter data. This can occur if a meter reader cannot access your meter. As a consumer, it’s your responsibility to ensure your meter is accessible. Know where your meter is located and keep a clear path to it.

According to the NECF, your retailer must bill you at least once every three months. If your bill is an estimate, it will be based on your previous usage for a similar period. Once an actual meter reading is obtained, the retailer must adjust the next bill accordingly. This may involve a credit if the bill was overestimated or an additional charge if it was under-estimated.

You can also provide your retailer with your own meter reading before your bill's due date. The retailer must provide clear instructions on how to submit your reading. Once you submit your reading, the retailer must promptly issue an adjusted bill. If the retailer rejects your reading, it must explain why.

For those with smart meters, the need for estimated readings is reduced. However, there may still be limited circumstances where an estimate is necessary.

Can I dispute my energy bill?

If your electricity bill appears unusually high or slightly off, there are a few steps you can take. Your first point of contact should be your retailer, the company that bills you for your electricity usage.

According to the Australian Energy Regulator (AER), your retailer is likely the most capable of addressing complaints about unexpectedly high electricity bills.

Here are the steps to dispute your energy bill:

Step One: Contact your energy retailer

When you reach out to your retailer, have your bill handy. Follow these steps:

  • Provide your full name and account number (usually at the top of your bill).
  • Remain calm and clearly state which part of the bill you are disputing.
  • Note the date and time of the call, and the name of the person you speak with.
  • If the issue is not resolved, ask to speak with a manager or supervisor for further assistance.
  • Record the manager’s name and the details of the conversation, including any agreed terms or conditions.

Step Two: Contact the ombudsman

If your retailer does not resolve your complaint within the agreed timeframe, you can escalate the issue by contacting the energy ombudsman for your state or territory. Here are the contacts:

StateEnergy ombudsmanContact number
New South WalesEnergy and Water Ombudsman NSW1800 246 545
VictoriaEnergy and Water Ombudsman VIC1800 500 509
QueenslandEnergy and Water Ombudsman QLD1800 662 837
South AustraliaEnergy and Water Ombudsman SA1800 665 565
Australian Capital TerritoryACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal02 6207 1740
TasmaniaEnergy Ombudsman Tasmania1800 001 170
Northern TerritoryOmbudsman NT1800 806 380
Western AustraliaEnergy and Water Ombudsman WA1800 754 7588

What if you’re not happy with the response?

If your issue remains unresolved, you should reach out to the energy ombudsman in your state or territory.

According to Australian law, your retailer is prohibited from disconnecting your energy service while your account is in dispute, regardless of whether the complaint is being handled by your retailer or the ombudsman.

What happens when I dispute an energy bill?

The resolution of your complaint largely depends on how your provider manages it under state or territory retail law. Each energy company handles complaints differently.

Some may have trained professionals dedicated to dispute resolution, while others might rely on general customer service representatives, which can influence the outcome. The specifics and nature of your complaint also play a significant role, as resolutions are often case-specific.

When in doubt, consult the energy price fact sheets for a detailed overview of your plan's rates, fees, and charges.

Difficulty paying your bills?

If you're facing financial hardship, your energy retailer may be able to help. By law, all retailers must have a hardship policy, which you can request.

Contact your retailer if you're struggling to pay your bill; it may extend your due date, allow alternative payment schedules, waive late fees, or help you find a more suitable energy plan.

Centrelink customers can pay their energy bills through Centrepay. For financial counselling, call the National Debt Helpline at 1800 007 007. The MoneySmart budget planner can assist with managing costs.

State and territory governments generally provide financial assistance for energy usage. Medical energy rebates are available for specific needs or for customers on pensions or other government payments.

Check with your government department responsible for energy and contact your retailer for further assistance.

How long will a dispute take to resolve?

When resolving energy disputes, it's important to discuss your options and agree on a response time with your retailer. A suggested timeframe is 10 business days, allowing your retailer enough time to address your complaint effectively.

Keep detailed records of all communication with the retailer for reference in case the issue needs to be escalated further.

Need to switch providers?

If you’re getting sick of the provider you currently have, call our Aussie-based team and let’s get you switched. You can reach us on 1300 790 106.