Tips to understand your power bill

What’s the first thing you look at when you open your power bill? If you’re like many people, you probably look at how much you owe and leave it at that. But what else does your energy bill tell you and how do you know that your bill is correct?

What is your bill telling you?

Under the National Energy Retail Rules, your energy provider must send you a bill at least once every 3 months. Depending on your contract and payment options, you may get your bill monthly.

While each provider has a different way of laying out their bills, there is certain information they must include by law, including:

  • how much you’ve paid since your last bill and if you’re in credit or arrears
  • any amounts still outstanding
  • dates of the billing period and the estimated date of your next scheduled meter reading
  • whether the bill is based on an actual meter reading or is estimated
  • the total amount of electricity consumed
  • any relevant fees, charges and tariffs applicable to you
  • due date for payment and a list of payment options
  • phone number for billing, payment enquiries and payment plan options
  • phone number for account enquiries and complaints
  • phone number for supply issues, faults or emergencies
  • your name, property address and billing address (if different)
  • your account number and meter identifier number
  • how to access interpreter services
  • any concessions you may be entitled to
  • whether you could be saving by being on one of their other energy plans.

There are several of other fees and charges that can make up the cost of your bill:

  • service and network charges (for the delivery of energy and the maintenance of the poles and wires)
  • cancellation and termination charges
  • security deposits
  • late payment fees
  • disconnection penalties and reconnection charges
  • special meter reading fees
  • credit card processing fees.

Reading your bill

If you’re not sure how to read your bill or worried about whether you’re reading it correctly, your provider can help. Many providers have a section on their website where they explain their bills. They are also able to explain the details over the phone.

Getting to know your bill can help you determine whether you’re being charged correctly, understand your energy usage and notice if it’s higher than normal. It can also help to make sure you’re getting the right deal and whether there are new charges or rebates to be aware of.

What should you check for on each bill?

As well as looking at the amount you owe, it’s worth checking a few key areas to make sure the bill is correct, and you know about any changes to your account.

  • if you receive concessions, check that they have been applied to your account
  • check if the bill is based on estimated usage or an actual meter read
  • check any payments you’ve made and if these amounts are correct
  • if there hasn’t been any change to your energy usage, check if your energy usage is consistent with the previous period or same time last year
  • look for any messages from your provider relating to changes to your bill such as rate increases, the end date of your current plan or offers of monthly billing.

Estimated bills

What does it mean if your bill is based on an estimated meter reading? An estimated bill means that your provider has estimated the amount of energy you have used for the quarter, based on the same quarter the previous year.

Estimated bills are usually issued if the energy distributor can’t safely access your meter. This could be due to a locked gate, unsecured dog or other obstruction. You will continue to receive estimated bills until it is safe for the distributor to access your meter.

While it might sound good if your bill is underestimated, the next time your distributor is able to take an actual reading, you could be sent a ‘backbill’ (or a catchup bill) for a substantial amount of money. If your bill is over estimated, you will be paying for more than you used until an actual reading is taken and you could find your account is in credit.

Under the National Energy Retail Rules if you have a basic meter and have received an estimated bill, you can contact your provider and supply your own reading and request to have your bill reissued. You must make this request before the due date for payment on the estimate bill you have received.

If you have a smart meter installed, you may still get an estimated bill. A smart meter will send your electricity usage to your provider through the mobile phone network. If there is a communication issue between your meter and your provider, some of the data may get lost. Your provider will estimate your usage for this lost data. This data can normally be recovered at the next data download and any over or underestimation will be corrected on your next bill.

Read more about estimated bills.

What to do if you have an issue with your power bill?

If you have an issue with your power bill, the first thing to do is contact your provider as soon as possible so they know about it and can help fix it. It’s useful to compare bills from previous periods (especially the bill from the same time last year) before contacting them. Keep notes from your conversation with them, including the advice they provide and what action they’ll take by when.

If you’ve spoken to your provider and you’re not happy with the outcome, you can contact us – the Energy and Water Ombudsman Queensland. Submit a complaint online or call 1800 662 837.

To read about how we've helped customers with an issue with their power bill, read our customer stories.