Power bills leave residents shocked and baffled

BILL SHOCK: Amanda Stroud said she "nearly fell over" when she saw her latest power bill.
BILL SHOCK: Amanda Stroud said she "nearly fell over" when she saw her latest power bill.

The icy mornings in many parts of the shire has had residents rushing to turn on their heating but as bills start to come in, some have been left aghast and baffled after price hikes of about 15 per cent.

Power company bills increased from July 1 and now customers are starting to see the effects. In some cases costs of some services have risen by as much as 29 per cent.

This week the ACCC started a series of public forums in major cities on retail electricity pricing with a preliminary report due by the end of September.

Not only is the cost coming as a shock to residents, but when they try to understand how the massive sums were reached, they are completely flummoxed.

Amanda Stroud of Nethercote said she “nearly fell over” when she saw her latest bill while Ron Douglas of Merimbula said he has spent hours trying to understand different power contracts that are just “too complex”.

Ms Stroud’s recent bill from Origin Energy was so huge that the company agreed to investigate.

“It was a 300 per cent increase on the previous quarter and although we had consumed more it was not equal to the the dollar value,” Ms Stroud said.

She immediately got on the phone to Origin who after some discussion accepted that the bill looked high and said they would investigate and reread the meter.

“I’m hoping it’s an error but it shocked me enough to stir me into action.”

Now Ms Stroud is seriously looking at renewable energy and group buys which is a way of small users being able to negotiate better deals with power companies.

“I am determined to pursue this. I can’t see how people can continue to pay these prices and I can’t imagine how someone on a pension can afford to pay for power and stay warm,” Ms Stroud said.

“The bills are so complex to interpret that even if you are an expert it’s difficult. We’re paying through the nose and there should be transparency,” she said.

It’s something that Mr Douglas agrees with after having spent the last four years looking at different companies and their contracts.

Mr Douglas signed a one-year contract with Origin on August 17 last year but the contract has a clause which on July 1 allows Origin to alter the tariff.

He said he had received no formal notifications but by going online worked out the kW/hr cost had risen by about 16 per cent.

Companies use various incentives to get customers to change provider but it can be almost impossible to compare like with like as Mr Douglas found out.

“”It’s too complex. I spent so many hours looking at all of this. Any discounts should come off the final bill so that we can compare like with like. All we need is for a reasonably intelligent person to be able to look at several different companies and be able to make a decision,” Mr Douglas said.

Why the ACCC is undertaking an inquiry into electricity prices 

The federal Treasurer has directed the ACCC to hold an inquiry into retail electricity pricing including the following matters:

  • costs contributing to retail electricity bills and how these have changed over time
  • factors affecting competition in the retail electricity markets
  • impediments to consumers making choices about their electricity service, including a lack of clear information about offers
  • how electricity retailers interact with different types of customers

A preliminary report is expected to be produced by the ACCC by the end of September 2017, with a final report due on June 30, 2018.

Public forums in July and August

The ACCC will hold public forums in July and August:

Monday 31 July 2017, 1-3pm, Adelaide, SA (large user focus) – Rydges, 1 South Terrace, Adelaide

Monday 31 July 2017, 5-7pm, Adelaide, SA – Rydges, 1 South Terrace, Adelaide

Thursday 3 August 2017, 5-7pm, Melbourne, Vic – Rendezvous Hotel, 328 Flinders Street, Melbourne

Monday 7 August 2017, 5-7pm, Townsville, Qld – Rydges, 23 Palmer Street, South Townsville

Monday 14 August 2017, 5-7pm, Sydney, NSW - The Radisson Hotel & Suites, 72 Liverpool Street, Sydney

The ACCC wants to hear from us

The ACCC wants to hear from customers and is particularly interested in feedback from electricity customers about:

  • difficulties in comparing retail electricity offers, e.g. the different ways that they are presented, inconsistent terminology and the number of offers available
  • the structure and content of retail electricity bills
  • the importance of price and other contract terms, e.g. the ability to bundle electricity with other services or the level of customer service offered by the retailer
  • understanding of time-limited discount offers, e.g. a pay on time bonus that lasts for a specified period of time, and what happens when these offers expire
  • why customers do not consider switching electricity retailers or choose to stay with their existing electricity retailer
  • any misleading or deceptive conduct or other unfair trading practices that occur in the retail electricity markets
  • awareness and use of electricity price comparison tools
  • particular issues that vulnerable customers face in dealing with electricity retailers
  • how customer experiences could be improved.

Customers are also welcome to provide feedback on other matters that they consider are important for the ACCC to look at as part of the inquiry.

How to give feedback

The ACCC is holding forums throughout Australia to speak directly to interested parties.

If you would like to provide feedback directly to the ACCC, write to them at retailelectricityinquiry@accc.gov.au.

A list of ACCC contacts is available on the ACCC website

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