Now may be the perfect time for consumers to use seven magic words – ‘What will you do to keep me?’ – to negotiate cheaper power bills, as the industry has been weakened by price gouging allegations.
On Monday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull ordered the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to review retail power prices, a fortnight after the Grattan Institute accused the sector of overcharging, especially in Victoria.
The ACCC has confirmed it will examine the industry’s structure, competition, and how prices are marketed to consumers, in a report due in September.
“Electricity prices have nearly doubled on top of inflation in most parts of Australia over the last decade based on a variety of different factors. It will be important to understand and examine these different factors in each state and territory,” ACCC chairman Rod Sims said.
With the regulator breathing down the necks of the retailers, now could be a moment of weakness to exploit. It’s as easy as finding a better deal and picking up the phone.
Paul Johnston, an analyst at the Sydney branch of the Royal Bank of Canada, has concluded there is “little doubt” retailers will try to limit price increases in coming years.
“With an open ACCC inquiry and leading into a federal election late 2018/early 2019, there is little doubt retailers will limit retail price increases in an attempt to avoid adverse regulatory intervention,” he said, in a research note aimed at investors.
Comparison websites, which make their money by recommending deals on utilities, also agree retailers are ripe for the picking.
The seven magic words
Simon Downes, editor of comparison website Canstar Blue, told The New Daily that consumers can genuinely get a better deal by asking for one, so long as they go in prepared.
“You need to know what to say and what to ask for, and it does require a bit of research on the consumer’s part because there’s no point ringing up your retailer and saying, ‘Please give me a better deal’. You need to back that up,” Mr Downes said.
Do your research, find a better deal elsewhere and then demand that your current provider match it. And be sure to compare everything: usage charges, supply charges, time-of-use tariffs, and any conditional discounts, he said.
“You need to give your existing retailer a challenge. Say: ‘I’ve seen this plan over here that’s going to save me $200 a year. What will you do to keep me?’
“Retailers will be desperate to keep you, and if it means they won’t get quite as much money out of you, that’s a hit the retailer is willing to take because it would rather have you stay but pay a little less than to completely lose you.”
GoSwitch CEO Nathan Davies agreed that consumers should test the market at least once a year.
“The two pillars of making an impact on your energy bill are, first, controlling your usage, and the second is doing research to understand if there are better offers available,” Mr Davies told The New Daily.
It won’t be easy, he said, but it will be worth it.
“It requires a lot of research and really drilling into all of those micro variables in all components of the overall bill – or using one of the free comparison services.”
Aside from the for-profit comparison websites, the federal government also runs Energy Made Easy, which offers comparison tools and tips for cutting power usage.
Huge discount? It’s a trap!
If you’re dissatisfied with the retailer’s counter-offer, consider switching, Canstar’s Mr Downes said. But don’t be misled by flashy discounts.
“It’s absolutely crucial that you don’t fall into the trap of assuming that the biggest discounts mean the biggest savings because it’s quite often not the case at all,” he said.
“It’s a tactic the retailers use to draw in customers. Don’t fall into that trap.”