The $425 million reason to actually read your energy bill
Energy bills make a significant dent in the household budget. In fact, a Finder survey of more than 17,000 respondents found that keeping the lights on is one of the leading causes of financial stress for one in four Australians.
Yet one of the biggest mistakes we make when it comes to our energy bill is failing to review the charges. And this can be costly.
An August Finder survey found that 3% of Australians - equivalent to almost 300,000 electricity customers - never review their energy bill. This is on top of the 1.1 million people who say they rarely review their charges.
Finder data shows that the average energy bill is approximately $365 per quarter - or $1460 per year. This means around $425 million worth of electricity charges are going unchecked annually.
Although your energy bill is complex (and a little dry), it's worth taking the time to understand your charges in relation to your usage. Below, we'll cover the reasons why your bill might fluctuate throughout the year - and what to do if you think you've been overcharged.
Why is my energy bill higher this quarter?
It's normal for your electricity bill to differ each month. This can happen for a number of reasons:
There's been a change in seasons
The weather can make a big difference in how much energy you use. Most people tend to use their heaters more in winter and run their air conditioning unit during the warmer months. This increased usage can blow up your bill.
You've been working from home
If this is the case, you're probably using more power than usual throughout the day. Running your computer, leaving lights on and even using the microwave or stove to cook lunch can add to your energy bill, especially if there are multiple people doing the same thing.
You bought a new appliance
Whitegoods like washing machines and dryers churn through a lot of power. While new appliances can be more energy efficient, if you've recently purchased an additional appliance or used your dryer more during winter, this can add to the cost of your bill.
The number of people living in your household has increased
Did your adult children return home during the COVID-19 pandemic? Maybe you've taken on a new housemate or had relatives come to stay. Your energy usage will naturally increase in line with the number of people living under your roof.
Your energy retailer has increased rates
Unfortunately, this is out of your control - to an extent. If your provider has increased rates and you're unhappy with the new billing amount, it might be time to jump ship to a provider who is offering a better deal.
What if my circumstances haven't changed?
If your living situation hasn't changed and your usage patterns remain the same, then it's possible you may have been overcharged.
This can sometimes happen if your provider estimates your usage. If you have an analogue electricity or gas meter, a meter reader will visit your property each month, or in some cases each quarter, to determine how much energy you've used.
If your meter only gets read once a quarter, the other two months you will be charged an estimated amount based on the previous billing period from around the same time last year, but this may not necessarily reflect your current usage.
When the meter is actually read, your provider will charge you the difference for better or worse. In some cases, this can lead to an eye-watering spike if they've underestimated your energy usage in the preceding months.
My retailer has overcharged me
If you think the amount you've been charged is incorrect, get in touch with your energy provider.
Generally, if your retailer has overcharged you by less than $50, you can get this amount deducted from the cost of your next bill. Whereas if you have been overcharged by more than $50, you can request either a deduction from your next bill or a refund.
If you can't reach an agreement with your retailer, you'll need to contact the energy ombudsman to reach a resolution.