How to avoid sneaky energy bill charges

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Households across the nation are bracing for a rude shock as temperatures plummet and energy bills soar even higher – here’s how to keep your costs as low as possible.

Energy expert and Solar Analytics chief executive Stefan Jarnason says his company has seen a huge increase in customers desperate to cut down their energy costs.

“Most of us have recently received a shock electricity bill that was much higher than we expected, but it’s going to get worse,” he said.

Undated : generic electric heater that is turned on
Aussies are starting to crank up the heat as winter weather takes hold. Picture: Supplied
Solar Analytics chief executive Stefan Jarnason shares his tips for avoiding bill shock this winter. Picture: Supplied
Solar Analytics chief executive Stefan Jarnason shares his tips for avoiding bill shock this winter. Picture: Supplied

Mr Jarnason co-founded the Australian-made app to help customers find the best solar electricity plan and speaks to people everyday who are worried about how they are going to afford their winter electricity bill.

But even if solar is not in your sights, he said there are a number of ways you can stay one step ahead of energy retailers.

Former aircraft engineer John Tester has had solar panels on his roof for more than a decade.

“I swap electric electricity providers to get the best deal I can,” he said from his southwestern Sydney home.

John Tester is a retiree who has created a super energy efficient home including more than a decade of solar panels. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Swift

“There’s no loyalty. You’ve got to go out and get the best deal.”

He switched providers in November and did not pay a cent to power his house last month. In fact, he earned $192 from selling his power back to the grid.

He and his wife Jennifer have not yet felt the pinch of the cost of living crisis.

“We’re not spending anything on electricity so it has no real impact on us,” Mr Tester said.

The former aircraft engineer said he has been spared from the cost of living crisis thanks to his solar panels. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Swift

Mr Jarnason said of the 300,000 Australians making the switch to solar panels every year, most people are spending about $8000 to $10,000 after the federal government rebate.

Solar Analytics claim you can save at least $2000 on energy every year by making the move to solar.

However, even if you aren’t ready to make the switch to solar, there are plenty of ways to make sure you aren’t paying too much for power.

Sneaky tricks used by energy operators

  • The loyalty tax

Energy operators rely on the fact that their customers live busy lives and don’t have time to keep hunting bargains.

“One common trick that electricity retailers use is the knowledge that most people are too ‘lazy’ to switch to a cheaper energy plan,” Mr Jarnason said.

He said operators call it the “loyalty tax” because it knows customers who are loyal to a brand they think looks after them will often end up sticking around despite the fact they no longer get a good deal.

“So many people stick with their old and far too expensive energy plan,” he said.

  • Complex and confusing charges

Bills are often diluted with complex industry jargon that can make it hard to decipher what exactly it is you’re paying for.

“Time of use, supply charge, feed-in-tariff, shoulder period,” are some of the phrases you might come across when scanning your latest bill.

Mr Jarnason said this is just another sneaky trick used to “make it difficult for people to decide which energy plan is cheapest”.

  • Hidden fees and charges

There are a range of ways your energy costs might be creeping higher without your notice.

Often energy operators will hide these fees in the fine print of your contract.

Paper bills, late payments or early contract termination are all fees an energy operator might sneak into your contract.

  • Sign-up sweeteners that turn sour

Energy operators will try and entice you to their brand with attractive offers when you first sign-up.

Cashback, gift cards or discounts on the first bill might be among the tactics used to get you to switch operators.

While shopping around is encouraged, it’s important to keep an eye on the terms and conditions to ensure it doesn’t come up with any hidden costs or fees.