Tips for shopping around for cheaper electricity prices

Before you start shopping around for cheaper electricity prices with a different energy provider, it may pay to ask your current provider if they can offer you a better deal first.

Failing that, you will be faced with myriad price comparison websites – including commercial sites, some of which will peddle you a limited range of choices. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is on the lookout for comparison websites which fail to disclose commercial relationships, saying these are an “enforcement priority”.

Household electricity bills are set to increase.
Household electricity bills are set to increase.

Jessica Kirby, director of campaigns and communications at CHOICE, says the new year is a good time to make sure your energy plan still meets your needs and budget. If you’ve been with the same provider for a while, she says there is a risk you could be paying the price for loyalty.

Her advice is to first contact your current provider to see if they can give you a better deal. Energy providers typically want to keep their customers and may offer you a better plan to dissuade you from leaving.

If you are having trouble paying your energy bills, retailers are required to provide financial hardship options, so Kirby advises contacting them and talking through your circumstances.

If you want to compare plans and providers quickly, Kirby suggests looking for independent government websites such as Energy Made Easy.

“These take the hassle out of comparing plans across different providers,” she says.

“Be wary of some commercial comparison websites. At the end of the day, many are businesses – driven by profit. That means that what they compare or recommend may be affected by commissions.”

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But switching to a better energy plan is only part of the solution. To keep your bills low, Kirby suggests you should also ensure that your appliances and home are running as efficiently as possible.

“After climate control, heating water will use the most energy in your home,” Kirby says. “Don’t use hot water when cold will do, particularly when it comes to laundry. Where you can, look for appliances with good energy or water efficiency star ratings – the more stars the better.

“While temperatures are high, keep curtains closed and make sure your doors and windows are properly sealed to stop any cool air from escaping.”

The Australian Energy Regulator’s Energy Made Easy website is relatively straightforward to navigate. Before using it you should look at your last few bills – and preferably for an entire year – to get an idea of how much energy you typically use each billing cycle. To get the best representation, you should tally your total use for the year by adding up the totals for each of the last four quarters. That will ensure you include periods of high use, such as during the winter months.

It also helps if you have the name of your current offer or tariff, which you can check with your current retailer. You should also find your 11-digit national meter identifier (NMI) on the second page your electricity bill. This can be plugged into the search to help you make an accurate comparison.

You can modify the search by providing extra details, including whether you have smart meter which provides a digital reading, or an older meter which has a clock. The search can be refined by clicking on preferences including whether you want monthly bills, no contract, no exit fees or no credit card fees. You should also search according to the number of people in your household.

The search engine will also allow you to enter your current bills and electricity use.

Once you have determined the cheapest deal, you will need to contact the retailer to check your eligibility.

AER chairwoman Clare Savage.
AER chairwoman Clare Savage.Credit:Dan Peled

Clare Savage, chair of the Australian Energy Regulator (AER), said energy bills will tell consumers if they could be on a better deal with their retailer by the end of September. The better offer statement will be added to the front page of bills as part of the regulator’s new Better Bills Guideline.

“We know the energy market is complex and the rising cost of living is placing significant pressure on Australian households, so we’re committed to helping consumers get the best possible deal on gas and electricity,” she said.

“By using the free and independent Energy Made Easy website consumers can easily compare energy plans using their actual usage data and access materials to help control their costs.”

Using Energy Made Easy

  1. Have your energy bills handy to use one of the EME search options. To get the best estimate you will need 12 months of usage information.
  2. Understand what types of energy plans you may be eligible for and filter the results on EME. Speak to the relevant energy retailer for further eligibility information or to switch plans.
  3. Check the plan is right for you and your circumstances.
  4. Always read the terms and conditions.
  5. You have 10 business days (from the date on which you signed the contract with your new retailer) to change your mind and cancel the contract at no charge.

    Before you sign or switch energy plans, ask the salesperson:

    1. How long do I need to sign up for?
    2. What are my rights to cancel this contract?
    3. How do I cancel the contract?
    4. Will I have to pay a termination fee if I want to leave early?

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    Source: Thanks smh.com