A new report from the Economic Regulation Authority has revealed that Western Australia has a higher rate of electricity disconnections than New South Wales, South Australia or Victoria, with the rate of residential disconnections doubling over the last two years.
In the 2017/18 financial year, 19,743 electricity customers had their power disconnected for not paying a bill, up 15,935 from the previous year.
According to the report electricity price increases, limits on hardship grants and a growing unemployment rate have made it harder for customers to pay their bills.
“Western Australia is different to other states where residential customers usually can’t choose their own electricity retailer. The limited competition in the market could be the reason for high prices,” said Mozo energy expert, Nathan Warne.
In the 2017/18 financial year, the State Government doubled the daily fixed charge component of the residential electricity tariff, causing bills to increase by $170 per year.
The Government also made it tougher for some customers looking to access the Hardship Utilities Grant Scheme (HUGS) - a scheme that provides financial assistance to customers unable to pay their bills and at risk of having their power disconnected.
Gas prices on the way down in WA
But while it looks like there’s little competition in the electricity market, the number of gas retailers in south-west WA has now increased to five, following AGL Sales, Origin Energy and Simply Energy entering the market.
And with customers now spoilt for choice for gas retailers, there was a downward pressure on bills, thanks to available discounts.
How to avoid being disconnected
With the rising number of households struggling to keep up with their energy bills, Warne says that Aussies need to make the first move to avoid having their power disconnected.
“If you know you’re not going to be able to pay your bill on time, the first step is to contact your retailer ASAP,” he explained.
“Once they’re informed, they’ll then work with you to decide on an appropriate payment arrangement to get you back on track - being disconnected is the last resort.”
Under the National Energy Retail Law, retailers must follow to specific steps before disconnecting a customer’s power, they are:
- The retailer must send you a bill that includes how much you owe, when the bill must be paid and how to pay it
- If you fail to pay your bill by the due date, the retailer is obliged to send a reminder notice
- If you still haven’t not paid their bill within the allocated time on the reminder notice, the retailer must then send a disconnection warning notice
- Once this has been sent the retailer must also try to contact you if they have not already called regarding the unpaid bill
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