Finance Your Budget Smartphones could help end dodgy power bills

Smartphones could help end dodgy power bills

Power bill
Some consumers have experienced bill shock due to estimated meter readings. Photo: Getty
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Your smart phone could hold the secret to a cheaper power bill.

That is according to the Turnbull government, which on Thursday revealed plans to allow householders to challenge their bills by sending photos of their electricity and gas meters to energy providers.

In an era where most Australians have a camera on their phone, it made sense to allow householders to dispute their bills by photographing their own meter, Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said.

That option is already open to consumers with some companies. Under the new laws to be considered by the Australian Energy Market Commission, it would be open to all.

“The proposed amendments to the National Energy Retail Rules will allow consumers to have their gas or electricity bill based on their own reading of the meter,” Mr Frydenberg told reporters.

“In cases where a customer receives an estimated bill from their retailer, the proposal will allow them to have it replaced with a more accurate bill based on their reading.”

Under existing laws, if a meter reader is unable to gain access to a meter, an estimate is made.

The rules state that providers only need to carry out an actual reading once every 12 months.

josh frydenberg
Josh Frydenberg unveiled the proposal on Thursday. Photo: AAP

As a result, some consumers have complained of bill shock.

Last year, one Sydney woman was sent a bill that overcharged her by more than 20 times her actual usage.

In Victoria, the Energy and Water Ombudsman received 675 complaints related to gas bill estimates in 2016 – an 11 per cent increase.

Mr Frydenberg said the existing laws meant some consumers were being overcharged.

“When there are issues with reading these meters, bills can be based on estimated rather than actual usage … these estimates can result in significant under or overcharging,” he said.

“This needs to change.”

The proposed rule change would benefit those with old-style meters as smart meters are introduced that can be read remotely.

The move is the latest regulatory move from the government to appease consumers frustrated by their power bills.

Those efforts have come as a consumer watchdog report last year found power prices had increased by 63 per cent since 2007.

Last year, the government introduced new laws forcing retailers to tell customers when their energy discounts were set to end.

The New Daily has reported that the market regulator is now encouraging consumers to move from ‘standing offers’ to ‘market offers’, which are subject to a floating rate but are generally cheaper.

A separate scheme to avoid power black outs sees consumers who power down appliances receive a discounted bill, other rewards such as movie tickets.

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