Could simplifying our power bills make them cheaper?

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    [Voiceover] If you've ever tried to understand your power bill, then given up and just paid it, you're not alone. With some statements it's like trying to decipher a secret code, but it is worth trying. An electricity price review found we could save as much as $280 a year by just switching to a cheaper plan — not mucking about switching providers, just changing the plan you're on. Power companies already have all the data on how you use electricity. They're supposed to tell you whether you're on the best plan for your needs. They do it over in Aussie, it's called a best plan notice. The Consumer Advocacy Council says if there's a cheaper plan available with your power company they should state it clearly on the bill, but they don't — and given how much money you could save that's a shocker. 

    [Kanoa Lloyd] Well joining us now is Chair of the Consumer Advocacy Council, Deborah Hart, and Deborah do you think these bills are hard to understand and is it on purpose?

    [Deborah Hart] Well consumers tell us that they're really hard to understand. Lots of consumers find it really difficult to understand their electricity bills. I'd hate to think that retailers are doing this on purpose, but certainly consumers tell us that they're having trouble reading their bills.

    [Jesse Mulligan] I had a look at my bill today, didn't seem too complicated. Are you sure we're not just blaming this convenient villain, the power company, instead of actually doing the hard work and trying to work it out ourselves?

    [Deborah] Yeah, well I think for many people their bills are really, they really are difficult to understand and they don't have the information that we need clearly prioritised, so that we can understand what we're paying, and understand whether there's a better plan for us, either with our retailer or with another retailer. My bill for instance, I can't find my plan. I don't know what my plan is and I can't remember when I signed up 4 years ago, what that plan was, so that makes it impossible for me to go into the Powerswitch site  and use that to see if there's a better retailer and a better plan for me. 

    [Jesse] We heard from the Electricity Retailers Association today, they say that your suggestions are well-meaning but they'd be difficult to implement, which could see unintended consequences of costs being passed on to consumers. That would be a disaster wouldn't it, if your suggestions made electricity actually more expensive for the rest of us?

    [Deborah] Yeah, look I don't even know where to begin with that, but it's silliness. We're asking no more than is being required in most European countries, in Australia, in the United States, and in Australia you have to have a best power plan notice on all bills. If they can do it in those countries we can do it here — and by the way, if my memory is correct, and it is, most of the large retailers, actually all of the large retailers, made multi-million dollar profits. Plus, retailers signed up to tell consumers that they were on the best plan when they signed up to voluntary guidelines, so they need to be doing this. And of course all retailers should want to service their customers and give them clear information. We're just helping them to know what it is that consumers tell us they need. 

    [Kanoa] Well, Deborah Hart, thanks so much for chatting to us.

    [Deborah] Thank you.

    [Jeremy Corbett] Yeah.

    [Jesse] Maybe this rings true for you, maybe it doesn't. I reckon my power company's been pretty good. Once every 12 months they get in touch with me and say, ‘hey, maybe you're on the wrong bill’ or, ‘maybe you're on the right bill’ but I guess the idea is that you don't want it to be left to chance, you want everyone to be doing that, and if they all are it kind of evens the playing field. 

    [Mark Richardson] I don't know which, I'm not going to ask which one you're on, but mine does, but it's more just a case like, lead a horse to water. You know they're offering me advice but I'm sort of not taking it so I'm not really, they're leading me there I'm not really drinking it. I guess we all have to actually make a little bit of an effort don't we?

    [Kanoa] Yeah, but like could they just stop using that same thing that all the baddies who get called to attention use, like ‘oh we could be more good but then we'd have to make the customers pay more’ like this they all do it the banks do it the supermarkets do it the electricity…

    [Jeremy] All with that voice!

    [Kanoa] Yes they use this voice, ‘the dastardly deeds’.

Our research

Find out more about our research into power billing, and see our model electricity bill.

Electricity bills: Giving consumers better information