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With nearly 75% of respondents from our independent 2018 survey stating their energy bills have noticeably increased over the last three years, it is essential Aussies understand the ins and outs of switching their energy plan to a better deal.

To help you find a great-value plan to suits your needs, we’ve compiled a guide to what you should know about the changeover process before switching energy providers.

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Why change energy providers?

There are many benefits for those who switch energy providers at the right time. Moving homes is a common reason for changing providers, as it serves as a timely reminder to assess your current utility costs and discover what other options are available to you.

Changing your address, though, is only the tip of the iceberg – many other reasons and scenarios can push you to switch to a new electricity and gas provider. For example, you might be interested in:

  • Finding a better price, so you have more money to spend on holidays or save for your future. Searching and comparing energy providers to see competitive pricing is an especially valid reason if your existing service becomes too expensive for your household budget.
  • Aligning with a service provider who cares about the same things you do; like reducing your carbon footprint.
  • Finding a plan with a flexible contract that doesn’t penalise you for terminating your plan early or making changes to your account.
  • Taking advantage of solar electricity rebates, if any are available in your state/territory.
  • Enjoying top-quality service. You should only ever receive great customer service from your energy provider.
  • Moving away from a provider who no longer meets your usage requirements. For example, if you’ve installed solar panels, you may find your existing plan comes at an unnecessary extra cost.
  • Consolidating bills and utility suppliers. It’s easier to track bills if there’s less of them floating around. Streamlining your supplier for power and gas is an excellent option for those who struggle to keep on top of invoices.

Tip: Look for providers who can add value or consolidate your utility accounts, as this may lead to further discounts.

Are you eligible to switch providers?

You may face different barriers to switching energy suppliers, depending on which Australian state or territory you reside.

Who can choose their electricity retailer?

Residents in the following Australian regions can choose their electricity and gas suppliers:

  • Australian Capital Territory
  • New South Wales
  • South Australia
  • South-East Queensland

Some Western Australian residents can choose their provider if they live within the South West Interconnected System and use less than 50-megawatt hours (mWh) of electricity each year. All Western Australian residents can choose their gas provider, however.

Who can’t choose their electricity retailer?

Residents in the below states and territories cannot change their electricity retailer due to current regulations:

  • residents outside of South-East Queensland;
  • Western Australians who live outside the South West Interconnected System;
  • Northern Territory. Power & Water Corporation service the majority of the territory. As such, most residents cannot change their provider or consolidate their power and gas plans; and
  • Residents here only have one electricity provider, Aurora Energy. However, some Tasmanians, depending on their location, can choose their gas supplier. For more information, visit the Tas Gas website.

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What should you look for in an energy plan and retailer?

Most energy contracts differ slightly between retailers, and most of them come as a plan. Some plans may have renewable energy options built in, while others may offer a discount for on-time payment or options to pay at different intervals.

Reading through and comparing each plan’s terms and conditions is the only way to truly understand all the differences. There are some basic points, however, to look out for when choosing a contract:

  • Does the contract offer a fixed rate and period? When comparing energy plans, you’ll notice some providers offer fixed supply terms and even set rates for a period of time. This fixed rate can be a good thing if energy prices are rising in the market. However, you’re locked into your contract and will likely need to pay a termination fee if you wish to switch to a cheaper deal.
  • Are you receiving a ‘market retail plan’ or a ‘standard retail plan’? Prices for market retail plans are set by the provider and can change at any time, even if you’ve just signed up to your plan. Providers must, however, tell you about this change no later than your next bill – your provider doesn’t have to tell you before they change the price. As the provider sets the prices for market retail plans, customers can receive discounts on their bill.
    Standard retail plans (or standing offers) feature prices that are typically set by the government (depending on where you live) and are usually higher than market retail plans. Providers cannot change their prices more than once every six months. Standard retail plans don’t offer customers discounts like those in market retail plans. However, providers must warn you about price increases.
  • What is the retailer’s customer service like? An energy provider’s customer service can be a deciding factor when choosing your retailer. In particular, be sure to consider how the provider handles service requests. Usually, you can complete service requests over the phone, but there is a growing number of businesses who offer online services for more efficient customer experience.
  • Does the provider offer any concessions on their energy plans? Seniors and those who hold government health care cards may be eligible for rebates and concessions. Keep an eye out for these concession as you compare energy plans.

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How long will it take to switch energy providers?

As a general rule of thumb, it can take up to three months to switch energy providers. Why does it take so long? Well, distributors only read your electricity meter every three months, so this timeframe is necessary for your new retailer to get an accurate reading before they start billing you.

It’s sometimes possible to switch providers immediately. To do this, you’ll need to apply for a special meter reading on a specific date approved by your retailer. Be aware, however, that additional fees may apply if you decide to go this route – check with your new provider for more details.

Many electricity retailers across Australia now allow their customers to change energy providers through online portals. These online portals eliminate a lot of the time-consuming paperwork and applications that you previously needed to navigate by mail/telephone.

Please note that you will not be impacted when you switch energy providers (i.e. you will still receive an energy supply). You’ll also receive a final bill from your previous retailer for the period prior to the new retailer taking over.

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What will it cost me to change providers?

It costs nothing to compare a range of energy providers through our comparison service; however, your current energy provider may require an exit fee if your contract is a fixed-term arrangement. If you are subject to such penalties, you’ll need to weigh up the benefits of the savings on your power bill compared to the costs of prematurely ending your contract. In some circumstances, you may save more money by waiting until your contract ends.

Remember: Any cancellation after the plan’s cooling-off period (typically 10 business days) will incur a termination fee from the energy retailer. If you still have any doubts, you may ask your current energy retailer to move your account to a no-contract plan while you make an informed decision.

Before deciding to switch energy suppliers, it’s worthwhile reviewing your existing agreement and its terms and conditions, as well as contacting your current electricity supplier for more information about any restrictions or penalties that may apply.

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Can I cancel my new energy plan if I change my mind?

After you’ve signed up for a new energy retailer, you will have a cooling off period to cancel the agreement. This period typically runs for 10 business days. Simply contact your retailer within this period to cancel your plan.

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When’s the best time to switch energy providers?

Switching energy retailers is a simple process; however, there are certain factors you must consider before switching. For instance, you may find it better to switch from your current contract before your contract is renewed to avoid a termination fee.

Your energy switch will only occur on your next scheduled meter read date, and not when you signed up for a new energy retailer.

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How to switch electricity providers: your checklist

  1. Take stock of your current plan’s exit fees.
    Review your current electricity plan’s terms and conditions to find out if you could face any early exit fees for cancelling before your contract renews. It’s a good idea to keep these termination fees in mind, even if the cost is less than the amount you’ll save by switching.
  2. Review your current rate and any discounts.
    By understanding your usage charges and any discounts currently applied to your account, you’ll have a clearer picture of what is ‘good value’ when weighing up your current plan against another. This information may be on your bill. Otherwise, you may need to contact your provider to find out.
  3. Ensure you have repaid outstanding bills.
    If your current energy provider is waiting for you to repay any outstanding invoices, or if you have a financial hardship agreement with your provider, you won’t be able to switch to another retailer. If this applies to you, you’ll need to repay the outstanding debt before you’re free to change over.
    Remember, though, that you can switch retailers even if you haven’t completed your current billing cycle with your provider (so long as you don’t have overdue payments). You won’t be billed twice, as your current retailer will send you a final bill after the switch date, and then you’ll receive bills from your new provider.
  4. Determine your energy requirements.
    Before comparing energy providers, it’s essential you have all the information you need before finding the right plan for your needs. For instance, a family of five will often have very different energy usage needs compared to a single resident who is rarely home.
    A quick way to work out how much electricity and gas you typically use is to compare your energy bills from the last year. Doing so will give you an indication of how your energy usage changes across different seasons.
  5. Compare a range of energy plans.
    Head to our energy comparison tool and select whether you’re comparing electricity, gas, or electricity and gas, as well as if you’re moving. Then, follow the prompts, entering details about your home or business, including:

    • your home/business’ postcode;
    • whether you have solar panels or if you’re interested in installing solar panels;
    • your electricity and gas usage; and
    • your name, email address and phone number.

    Once you click ‘Get Prices’, you’ll be taken to any plans that apply to your energy needs, based on the information you provided.

  6. Select a plan to view its details.
    Be sure you carefully weigh up the pros and cons of each plan, and avoid being swayed by discounts and attractive offers – these usually have a time limit, where your plan will revert to a higher rate at the end of this period. Be sure to check any new plans against your old one, to ensure it is suitable.
  7. Confirm the switchover once you’ve found the right plan.
    Lock in your switch by applying over the phone or through our service, depending on our partner. Keep in mind, though, that your switch won’t occur right when you sign up with your new provider; the changeover will take place on your next meter read, which can take up to three months, depending on your last meter read. If you want to speed up this process, you will need to pay a callout fee.
  8. Cancel direct debit payments to your old provider.
    Don’t forget to cancel payments to your former energy provider if you had set up a direct debit account.
  9. Keep note of your new billing cycle.
    Jot down your new energy provider’s billing cycle, as it could be more or less frequent than your billing period from your previous provider. Some energy providers offer free smartphone apps, so customers can keep a closer eye on their energy costs – as well as set alerts for when a bill is due.

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Other frequently asked questions

Who makes the laws for energy retailers?

The Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) is responsible for making and revising the rules that govern the retail sale of electricity and natural gas supply in Australia. Under national electricity and gas laws, the AEMC is responsible for developing Australia’s energy markets to ensure consistency and transparency across the energy sector.

The AEMC ensures energy retailers, for instance, must indicate whether there are other retail options available to their customers, and the providers must also take into account any hardships or problems that may affect their customers’ ability to pay, which is based on the idea that energy is a basic need for Australians everywhere.

What do I do if my energy supplier breaches the rules?

In all states and territories in Australia, there are energy and water (or just energy) ombudsmen who can deal with complaints about matters relating to energy supplies without taking them to court. The Australian Energy Regulator also has a dispute resolution system in place for matters related to you and energy supply contracts.

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