From early 2019, households with smart meters will have new rights and retailers will be obligated to accept meter reads from customers without smart meters who suspect an incorrect electricity or gas bill.

Currently, energy retailers may base bills on estimated usage if meter readers have been unable to carry out an actual read because of access problems like locked gates or a dog in the yard.

In the new rule, starting 1 February 2019, retailers must let customers know they can provide their own meter reading if they want, instead of accepting retailers’ estimates.

The rule was made to reduce the risk of customers being exposed to the financial shock of inaccurate estimated bills.

Enabling customers to do meter self-reads in these situations will reduce the risk of customers being exposed to higher bills based on overestimated energy use, or having to repay significant sums due to previous bills based on underestimated energy use.

The rule covers small customers with gas meters or older-style accumulation electricity meters. Retailers will be able to extend this service to customers with smart electricity meters if they choose to do so for meters that can’t be remotely read.

The Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) recommends new civil penalties if retailers fail to comply with any of the new obligations.

Although only a small percentage (less than five per cent) of energy bills are based on estimated reads, state energy ombudsmen and consumer groups have advised that billing disputes about inaccurate estimates are one of the most frequent categories of customer complaints.

This should diminish over time as advanced meters that are capable of being remotely read are progressively rolled out under the AEMC’s competition in metering rule. However, there will continue to be some instances where meters need to be manually read, for example if the customer has opted out of getting an advanced meter.

This final rule is the result of a rule change request from former Federal Energy Minister, Josh Frydenberg, on behalf of the Australian government. It has been consolidated with two other requests from individuals related to inaccurate estimated meter reads. The final rule addresses issues raised by all three proponents.

Allowing meter self-reads is part of a package of initiatives following the Australian Government’s round table discussions with energy retailers last year.

Lauren ‘LJ’ Butler is the Assistant Editor of Utility magazine and has been part of the team at Monkey Media since 2018.

After completing a Bachelor of Media, Communications and Professional Writing at the University of Wollongong in 2014, and prior to writing about the utility sector, LJ worked as a Journalist and Sub Editor across the horticulture, hardware, power equipment, construction and accommodation industries with publishers such as Glenvale Publications, Multimedia Publishing and Bean Media Group.

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