New rule lets customers fight back against too-high estimated energy bills

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Frustrated by estimated usage charges but don’t have a smart meter? As of February 1st, you’ve got the right to change your own electricity and gas bill.

The Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) has established a new rule requiring retailers to accept customer meter reads—but only in certain circumstances. Here’s what you need to know.

This rule only applies to small customers with gas meters or older-style accumulation electricity meters. Those with smart meters that can be read remotely will not be able to provide self meter-reads.

If you have a smart meter that can’t be read remotely, it’s up to your retailer whether or not they’ll let you submit your own reading.

Self-meter reads can only be submitted and accepted if the customer receives an estimated reading and suspects that it is incorrect.

What is an estimated reading?

If a meter reader is unable to read a meter, your retailer can estimate the reading. This usually occurs when the meter reader cannot access the meter. For example, if a dog is in the yard, the meter is behind a locked gate, or obscured in some way.

To make an estimated reading, the retailer uses the previous usage pattern for the property. Since this isn’t always accurate, it can create real bill shock when you receive the next bill.

If your bill contains an estimated reading, it should be clearly stated on the bill. While customers have previously been able to submit their own meter read, retailers were not required to adjust the bill based on that information.

Instead, the customer was liable to pay the bill. When the next actual meter read came in, the bill would be adjusted to reflect the real numbers. The customer would then be given a credit if they had been charged too much, or a debit if they were charged too little.

As you can imagine, this isn’t an ideal outcome for customers, most of whom are already grappling with increasing energy prices.

The AEMC reports that estimated readings aren’t common—only 5% of bills are based on estimated reads—but they are one of the most common types of customer complaints.

How the new AEMC rule helps manage bills

Retailers are now required to inform customers of their right to provide their own meter reading. While customers are not obligated to do so, they can provide their retailer with a self-reading rather than accept an estimated bill.

This new rule was introduced to prevent customers, especially those in vulnerable households, from being hit with estimated bills that were higher than they should be.

Over time, most older-style meters will likely be replaced by smart meters, which can read remotely and do not require a meter reader on the property. However, customers who opt out of an advanced meter will still benefit from this rule.

Retailers who do not comply with the new regulations may face civil penalties.

Understanding your rights

Think you’ve received an erroneous estimated reading? Here’s what you can do.

Provide your retailer with a reading of your meter before the bill’s due date. Your reading must be in accordance with the retailer’s guidance and requirements – consult with your retailer about what these are.

Your retailer is required to inform you in writing that you can request an adjusted bill. If your self-read is not accepted, your retailer must let you know immediately, along with an explanation of their decision.

Energy bill too high, no matter what the meter says? Take action by comparing energy plans on electricityandgas.com.au. Energy prices are too high already—don’t pay more than you have to.