About energy and water companies

What's the difference between a retailer and a distributor?

Electricity and gas retailers sell electricity and bill you. They pay distributors to transport the electricity or gas to your premises. Electricity and gas distributors build and maintain the local networks of electricity poles and wires, and gas pipes, and other equipment to deliver electricity or gas to your premises. They're also responsible for meter reading and sending retailers the data for billing.

 

Most water corporations in Victoria are both retailers and distributors—they have billing, distribution and network maintenance functions.

 

Which energy and water companies operate in Victoria?
You’ll find a list of (and links to) energy retailers, distributors and transmission companies operating in Victoria on the Essential Services Commission’s (ESC’s) website. The ESC’s site also has a list of (and links to) metropolitan, regional and rural water corporations. You can find a list of EWOV's Scheme Participants here.
What rules do the companies have to follow?
The energy and water companies (and their customers) must follow energy and water legislation and codes and guidelines set by the Essential Services Commission (ESC). The energy and water sections of the ESC’s website are a good source of information about customer and company rights and responsibilities.
Can I change my company?

If you aren’t happy with the actions or rates/tariffs of your electricity, LPG and (usually) your natural gas retailer then you can change companies. Termination fees may apply - it's best to ask your company about your contract terms. You can compare the tariffs available to you using the Essential Services Commission's independent price comparator.

 

If you live in a block of flats with bulk hot water, you must stay with the retailer providing that bulk hot water. Apartments using bulk hot water are on the same meter for the gas used to heat the water. A collective choice about changing retailer could be made by the Owners' Corporation (Body Corporate) or building management. If you use natural gas for cooking or heating, you'll have your own meter for it—so you can choose your retailer for this. It could mean your gas bills come from two different gas retailers—one for your share of the bulk hot water and one for your cooking/heating.

 

You can't change your electricity or natural gas distributor because it owns the infrastructure including the poles, wires and pipes, in particular areas of Victoria.

 

You can't change your water corporation, as there's just one water corporation for each part of Victoria.

About energy contracts

What’s the difference between a standing contract and a market contract?

A standard contract is one where you just arrange for electricity or natural gas connection on the retailer’s standard terms.

 

A market contract is one where you negotiate the terms of the electricity, natural gas or LPG contract and give your explicit informed consent to those terms with your signature or a recording of your agreement (if you agree over the phone).

 

More about switching energy retailer here

About bills

What's the service to property charge?

Electricity and Gas

The service to property charge is a fee for accessing and maintaining an energy distributor's network. These fees are regulated by the Australian Energy Regulator and vary depending on where you live.

 

Water

These are flat fees on each ‘property’ for access to the water and sewerage systems. Service charges may be for water and sewerage, or wastewater. Service charges can also apply to vacant land not connected to the water system — if the water corporation has made provision for water services to that land (section 144 of the Water Act 1989). In some cases, these charges are much less than those for developed properties. Some water corporations don’t charge if the land isn’t connected to services and doesn’t have any improvements (buildings) on it.

Who pays service charges?

The owner of a residential property pays the water service charges — not the residential tenant.

What if there are two houses on one title?

The water service charges apply to each separate occupancy on a parcel of land, regardless of whether the occupancy has a water meter. For example, a group of four flats on one or more titles attracts four water service charges, not one.

 

What about multi-dwelling developments?

All the units or apartments in a multi-dwelling development must all pay a water service charge. If there’s only oneshared meter, each property that can be separately occupied has to pay its own water service charge.

 

Fact Sheet 16: Charges on water bills (metropolitan water corporations)

Explains the main charges on the bills of residential water customers in metropolitan Melbourne — and how and when these charges are applied

 

Fact Sheet 17: Charges on water bills (regional urban water corporations)

Explains the main charges on the bills of residential customers of regional urban water authorities — and how and when these charges are applied

 

The tariffs have gone up. Can my company do this? Does it have to let me know?

The simple answer to the first question is yes.

 

Whether an energy retailer has to let you know will depend on your contract:

 

  • If you’re on a market contract, there will usually be a clause about price increases. That clause might say it's possible to exit the contract without penalty for a certain period after notice of a price increase.
  • If you’re on a standard contract, the new price will be published in the Victorian Government Gazette, and a notice will generally appear on the first bill you receive that's based on the new price.
 

LPG pricing is not regulated. Information on LPG prices can be found on a LPG retailer's website. Generally speaking, prices are based on the volume and the international wholesale price.

 

A water corporation must publish a notice of a change in its charges in a newspaper generally circulating in its operating area. The corporation is limited in how much it can increase its charges, because the Essential Services Commission (ESC) sets prices for several years in Water Price Reviews.

What rights do I have if I can’t pay my bill?

You could make an appointment to speak with a financial counsellor. Financial counsellors help people facing problems such as financial over-commitment (having more debt than you can deal with), threatening letters, harassment by debt collectors, debt recovery through the courts, house eviction, water restriction, disconnection of gas, electricity, phone and stopping of LPG deliveries. The assistance to you will be free, but there may be a delay before it's possible to get an appointment. To find out about financial counsellors in your part of Victoria, you can ask your company or ring Consumer Affairs Victoria on 1300 558 181 or use this directory on the Financial and Consumer Rights Council's website.

 

All the electricity, natural gas and urban water corporations must have a hardship policy. Most companies have a special team that works with customers to help them manage their ongoing bills and usage. There's more information about payment difficulties and assistance in the fact sheet below.

 

Although LPG retailers are not required to have a hardship program, they need to offer customers payment assistance through payment plans, and inform customers about local financial counsellors and available concessions. They also need to provide customers with energy efficiency advice.

 

Click here for Fact Sheet 7: Can't pay your energy or water bill

Where can I get information about cutting my energy and water to save on my bills?
 

If you're using more energy or water than you can afford to pay for, it's in everyone's interests to see if your usage can be reduced. All electricity and natural gas companies can offer energy usage audits. Some water corporations offer water usage audits. In some cases, the audit is done over the phone. In other cases, and with your agreement, the company will arrange for somebody to come to your home to conduct a field audit. You can ask your company about usage audits. Most companies will have useful information on their websites.


Other sources


Sustainability Victoria: Get involved – sustainability info

GreenPower: a national accreditation program for renewable electricity, run jointly by ACT, NSW, SA, QLD, VIC and WA government agencies

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission: Your consumer rights: Environmental claims fact sheet on environmental claims in products and services

Why am I receiving Dear Occupier/To the Occupier/Dear Customer mail
  • This is not junk mail – energy companies send bills and letters addressed to ‘The Occupier’ (or similar) when supply is being used and they don’t know who is living in the property.
  • If you receive this type of correspondence, make sure you ring the company sending the letters as soon as possible to query the correspondence.
What should I do if I can’t pay a bill?

Ring the company to ask about assistance available to you.

 

If it offers you an instalment plan, it must take notice of how much you say you can afford to pay in each instalment. It's also entitled to take into account any debt you might build up by paying that amount. It doesn't have to offer you another instalment plan if you've had two plans in the last 12 months, you haven't stuck to them, and you haven't assured the company you'll stick to another one. Some companies even offer incentives for you to stick to the plan.

 

All electricity and natural gas companies accept Centrepay and most of the water corporations do too. Centrepay is a free direct bill-paying service offered to customers receiving payments from Centrelink. Through Centrepay a customer can choose to pay bills by having a regular amount deducted from their Centrelink payment. Energy companies generally help you with the forms to establish such payment arrangement.

 

If you have a Healthcare card, ask the company to check that you're getting all of the government concessions and rebates you're eligible for.

 

You may be eligible for a Utility Relief Grant from the government. This is a once-off payment which will reduce your debt. You can apply through your energy or water company, but the decision is made by the Department of Human Services' Concessions Unit. Because you can get only one grant for electricity, one for gas and one for water, every two years, the timing of the application can be important.

 

If you use LPG or alternative fuels, there is a non-mains Winter Energy Concession that may be applicable to your account. As a LPG, carted water or alternative fuel customer, you may also be eligible to apply for a non-mains Utility Relief Grant from the government. Most companies have useful information on their websites.


Other sources

Fact Sheet 6: Concessions: Information about electricity, gas and water concessions

Fact Sheet 7: Can't pay your energy or water bill?: What residential customers should do if they can't pay their bill, and the payment assistance that may be available to them

Sustainability Victoria: Get involved – sustainability info

GreenPower: a national accreditation program for renewable electricity, run jointly by ACT, NSW, SA, QLD, VIC and WA government agencies

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission: Your consumer rights: Environmental claims fact sheet on environmental claims in products and services

Financial and Consumer Rights Council 

Can an energy company or water corporation bill me past the current period
Energy companies

Yes, an energy company can issue a backbill or a catch-up bill, but there are limits on how far back it can go.

For electricity and natural gas, a company can only go back nine months, from the date the customer is notified of the undercharging.

There are no limits to how far the company can go back if it's your fault that the catch up bill was needed (e.g. you repeatedly blocked access to the meter) or if you acted unlawfully (e.g. tampered with the meter).

There is also no regulatory limit on electricity and gas backbills for business customers using more than 40 megawatt hours of electricity a year or 1,000 gigajoules of gas. The company can go right back to when the undercharge started, subject to your contract terms and the statute of limitations.

LPG companies can bill a residential customer back for up to nine months. There’s no limit on LPG backbills for business customers.

Energy companies must give you equal time to pay (up to a maximum of 12 months)—so, if the backbill covers 6 months’ of usage, you must get 6 months to pay that backbill. If you get a backbill for more than 12 months of usage (e.g. it was your fault the catch up bill was needed because you denied meter access), you might only get 12 months to pay the full backbill.

Water corporations

Yes, water corporations can backbill for a maximum of 12 months, even if the undercharging or non-charging has been for longer than that. The water corporation must give you equal time to pay—so, if the backbill covers 6 months, you must get 6 months to pay that backbill.

You can read more about this topic in Fact Sheet 4: Backbilling

About meters

Maybe my meter is faulty. Can it be tested? Who pays?

You can ask to have a meter (electricity, natural gas or water) tested, but if the meter is tested and found to be operating within standards, you may have to pay for the test.

 

In our experience, most tested meters are found to be operating within the Australian Standards. If they're not, they're more likely to run slow than fast—this means you're more likely to have been undercharged than overcharged. But meters have also been found to be running fast.

 

We suggest you try to work out whether something else is causing your high bills before you ask for a meter test.

 

See Fact Sheet 13: Electricity, gas and water meters.

About getting the electricity, gas or water connected

How long should it take to connect the utilities at a new property?

The retailer must pass the request on to the distributor.

 

The distributor must then use its best endeavours to connect the property on the date agreed with you.

 

If no date has been agreed, subject to safety and other requirements being met, the electricity distributor should connect within 10 business days of the request. A gas distributor should connect within 20 business days of the request.

 

If this timeframe isn't met, the electricity distributor may be required to make a Guaranteed Service Level (GSL) payment of $50 for each day the new connection is delayed, up to a maximum of $250. For gas, the GSL payment is $80 per day, to a maximum of $240.


For more information check out Fact Sheet 12: Energy service orders 

How long should it take to connect the utilities at an existing property?

While you apply through the retailer, the actual connection work is done by the local distributor.

The electricity or gas retailer with the obligation to connect must arrange connection at your property 'as soon as practicable' after you apply for connection.
 
After you've asked the retailer to arrange to connect your property, it must arrange for connection by the local distributor no later than the next business day.
 
The distributor must use its best endeavours to connect the property within 1 business day (unless the request was made after 3pm).
 
So, getting electricity or gas connected at an existing property can take a number of days.
 

For more information check out Fact Sheet 12: Energy service orders

What should I do when I move into a new property?
Electricity and Gas

Water

  • Contact your local water corporation to set up an account.
  • If you’re not sure which water corporation’s area you live in, check using this interactive map (you can also type your address in)
  • Depending on the lease and meter set, as a tenant you may not need to pay water charges. Or you may only need to pay for the usage and sewage disposal charges.

About supply disconnection and restriction

Can my energy or water supply actually be cut off?

Your energy supply can be cut off (disconnected) and your LPG deliveries can be stopped. Urban water isn't actually cut off—the water flow is severely restricted by the insertion of a restrictor into the water pipe.

 

We receive far more cases about disconnection of electricity or natural gas than we do about restriction of water. The disconnection is usually for debt, but it can be for other reasons too.

 

It may be disconnected in error—when a previous occupant's request for disconnection is acted on after a new occupant has moved in, or a mistake is made in the address to be disconnected. In these cases, reconnection is made quickly once the error is realised.

 

It may also be disconnected in an emergency (e.g. a bushfire)—or if it would otherwise potentially endanger the health or safety of any person or the environment.

 

It can also be disconnected if you've breached a code or regulation, or used the supply illegally.

What if the company was wrong in cutting my supply off?

A ‘wrongful disconnection’ is one where the electricity or natural gas retailer didn’t comply with the terms and conditions of its contract with you—in practice, this basically comes down to whether it followed the Energy Retail Code in disconnecting your supply.

In December 2004, the Victorian Government introduced a law requiring energy retailers to pay residential customers whose supply was disconnected wrongfully $250 a day for each day the customer was without power (or part thereof).

There's no wrongful disconnection payment for LPG, but there is a similar payment for water: the Water Guaranteed Service Level (GSL) payment. Customers may be eligible for this GSL payment of $300 if their water corporation hasn't complied with all of the rules before taking legal action or restricting supply. When EWOV investigates a complaint about one of these issues, we review whether the water corporation has completed all the steps in the Customer Service Code – Urban Water Businesses and in the Essential Services Commission's Checklist for minimum 'reasonable endeavours'. If not, a GSL payment applies.

Check out Fact Sheet 8: Disconnection and restriction for debt for more information.

What can I do if my electricity or gas supply has been cut off?

As with any other complaint, the company must have an opportunity to resolve the matter before we become involved. Normally that means if you haven't phoned the company before contacting us, we'll refer you back to its contact centre—and we generally won't take the complaint for investigation unless you've made at least two attempts to sort things out.

 

However, if the disconnection or restriction has already taken place, and the situation seems quite serious, we may contact the company and ask it to phone you.

 

Once we've taken your complaint for investigation though, we'll ask the company to either to reconnect your supply (take the restriction off, if it's water) or, if it's about to happen, not to disconnect or restrict.

 

It's standard EWOV procedure that you're expected to pay the part of the bill you aren't disputing. In disconnection cases, however, there are often capacity to pay issues which make this policy difficult to apply. We do expect that you'll negotiate a payment plan you can afford. It's also not unusual for us to suggest you see a financial counsellor. Sometimes, especially if there's difficulty negotiating a payment plan, we may arrange for you to see a financial counsellor, specifically to advise on your capacity to pay.

 

A typical resolution to a disconnection case is the negotiation of a payment plan. This often involves referral to the company's hardship team. If you don't stick to the plan and your supply is disconnected again, it may not be possible for us to accept another complaint from you, unless something has changed.

About supply quality

What are the electricity guaranteed service levels?

Under guaranteed service levels (GSLs), electricity distributors must make payments in recognition of poor service, but those payments aren't intended as compensation.

 

At present, the GSL payments are: 

  • $100 where the customer experiences more than 20 hours of unplanned sustained* interruptions per year (or $150 for more than 30 hours or $300 for more than 60 hours)
  • $100 where a customer experiences more than 10 unplanned sustained* interruptions per year (or $150 for more than 15 or $300 for more than 30)
  • $25 where a customer experiences more than 24 momentary* interruptions per year (or $35 for more than 36).

*Sustained means it lasts for more than a minute, while 'momentary' is less than a minute.

 

If you qualify, the GSL payment is made automatically—you don't have to apply for it. It must be paid 'as soon as practicable' and is usually credited on your first account of a new calendar year.

 

Where the power outage was outside the control of the distributor—e.g. due to bushfire or storm—the electricity distributor can apply to the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) for an exemption from the GSL payments.

 

If your damage or any other monetary loss directly related to the incident exceeds the GSL monetary limit, you can lodge a compensation claim with your local distributor. You need to get a form from the distributor and provide documentation. Your distributor will assess whether compensation is payable or not.

Are there gas and water GSLs?

Yes, they also apply in natural gas and for most water companies. There are no guaranteed service levels (GSLs) for LPG .

 

If a residential natural gas customer experiences more than 6 unplanned interruptions in a 12 month period, due to faults in the distribution system, they may be eligible to receive a payment for each subsequent event in that calendar year. If the gas supply isn't restored within 12 hours, the customer is to be paid an amount provided the cause is not beyond the gas distributor's control.

 

If your damage or any other monetary loss directly related to the incident and exceeds the GSL monetary limit, you can lodge a compensation claim with your local distributor. You need to get a form from the distributor and provide documentation. Your distributor will assess whether compensation is payable or not.

 

Most water corporations have GSLs. You should ask your corporation about these. 

 

Click here for a list of energy and water company contact details.

 

 

 

Can I get compensated for damage or loss from an electricity surge or brownout?
Low voltage (brownout) or high voltage (surge or spike) incidents are called voltage variations. Where there's a voltage variation—and you experience loss or damage as a result—you may be able to claim compensation from the electricity distributor.
 
One consideration is the ‘Voltage Variation Compensation Guideline’. This Guideline sets out when a distributor is required to compensate a customer for damages caused by a voltage variation event. It covers customers using less than 40MWh per year. Voltage variation occurs where supply is delivered outside the limits described in the Electricity Distribution Code.
 
The ‘Voltage Variation Compensation Guideline’ covers damage to electrical equipment, but not consequential losses. Compensation is on an 'old-for-old' basis, that is, current market value.
 
When we investigate complaints about damage and loss of profit from interruptions to electricity, gas or water supply, we consider what’s 'fair and reasonable' in the particular circumstances. We also ask the customer to substantiate their claim and provide documentation. In some cases, the company makes a goodwill payment over and above the Guaranteed Service Level (GSL) payment—for example, if it could reasonably have done more to prevent, or reduce the length of, a supply interruption. This payment may also include compensation for indirect losses, e.g. loss of food.

If you’re a business customer, you have a responsibility to take reasonable precautions to minimise any losses at your business premises.

 

About trees and powerlines

Do I have to cut trees that are near powerlines?

You're responsible for keeping trees on your property clear of the line that provides service to you. You're also responsible for cutting back trees which may interfere with a private electric line on an adjoining property.

 

Trees near other electric lines that cross the boundary of your property and trees near electric lines in the street are the responsibility of the electricity distributor.

 

Read more on Energy Safe Victoria’s website.

 

Carbon Price

Who can I speak to now that the carbon price has been repealed?
If you want more information about how your bills are affected by the government's decision to end the carbon tax, your first step is to talk to your energy retailer or water corporation about any concerns that you have.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) can provide information and investigate complaints from consumers about energy retailers that have not passed on the full price reductions resulting from the repeal of the carbon tax. Visit the ACCC website or call 1300 303 609.

Water related issues

Can I change my retailer for bulk hot water

If you live in a building with bulk hot water, you must stay with the retailer providing that bulk hot water. Buildings using bulk hot water are on the same meter for the gas used to heat the water. A collective choice about changing retailer could be made by the Owners' Corporation (Body Corporate) or building management. If you use natural gas for cooking or heating, you'll have your own meter for it — so you can choose your retailer for this. It could mean your gas bills come from two different gas retailers — one for your share of the bulk hot water and one for your cooking/heating.

Read more in Fact Sheet 25: Bulk Hot Water.

What happens if I move out of greater metropolitan Melbourne and don’t receive the desalination plant refund on my water bill
  • Victoria’s independent economic regulator for the water industry, the Essential Services Commission (ESC), will oversee the return of monies to customers and has set up a dedicated website to help customers.
  • Contact your previous metropolitan water corporation to ask for an application for special consideration for the water desalination plant refund.
  • More information on the desalination refunds and applications for special consideration are available from the metropolitan water corporations:

City West Water
Phone: 131 691
Website: www.citywestwater.com.au

South East Water
Phone: 131 694
Website: www.southeastwater.com.au

Yarra Valley Water
Phone: 131 721
Website: www.yvw.com.au  

Western Water
Phone: 1300 650 425
Website: www.westernwater.com.au   

How are customers receiving the water desalination plant refund
  • Customers are receiving the refund via a 12-month price freeze for the 2012-13 financial year. This means that rates were left at 2011-12 levels. Additional rebates are being applied to bills to return monies.
  • Victoria’s independent economic regulator for the water industry, the Essential Services Commission (ESC), will oversee the return of monies to customers and has set up a dedicated website to help customers. Click here to go to that webpage.
  • The ESC is releasing quarterly progress reports on this matter and will also complete an audit at the end of 2013-14 to determine if further refunds need to be made to customers.
  • More information on the desalination refunds is available from the metropolitan water corporations:

City West Water
Phone: 131 691
Website: www.citywestwater.com.au

South East Water
Phone: 131 694
Website: www.southeastwater.com.au  

Yarra Valley Water
Phone: 131 721
Website: www.yvw.com.au  

Western Water
Phone: 1300 650 425
Website: www.westernwater.com.au