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How to Handle an Unexpectedly High Electricity Bill

You’re not alone if rising costs of living are on your mind. We surveyed Aussies about EOFY and energy and learned that over 50%1 are looking to cut back spending to prepare for seasonal electricity bills. But is that all you can do?
Bill Shock

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Updated 17/10/2023
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Written by

Liv Steigrad

Updated 17/10/2023

What changed?

Updated with new tips. Sources checked to ensure most up to date
Our aim is to help you make better informed decisions. That’s why iSelect’s content is produced in accordance with our fact-checking and editorial guidelines.

Find out more about how we make money.

View our Privacy Policy.

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Why is my electricity bill so high?

Received a monster electricity bill and wondering why? If you haven’t made any drastic changes to your lifestyle or the way you use your electricity at home, there are other factors that could have contributed to your larger-than-expected bill. Let’s take a look.

Seasonal changes

We reckon you should be comfy when relaxing at home so that air-con might have to do a few all-nighters in the middle of January. Whether it’s a scorching summer or a particularly icy winter, a new season often means different levels of heating or cooling are required. This can translate to different amounts of energy use from more recent bills.

New or faulty appliances

New washing machine or dishwasher? Upgraded to a much bigger TV? New appliances can contribute to a larger electricity bill, especially if they’re not energy efficient or having a new one could mean a sudden increase in usage. But if you haven’t bought any new appliances recently, your existing appliances could be the culprit. If they’re faulty in some way, they might be using up more electricity than they should.

Unpaid charges from previous bills

If your bill seems wildly different to the norm, it could simply mean that unpaid charges from a previous bill were carried over to your current one. If this is the case, it should say so on your current bill. You can also look through your previous bills and payment records to double-check this.

Incorrectly estimated charges

If your meter wasn’t able to be read (due to overgrowth, construction or an angry doggie), your Energy Provider might send you an estimated bill. If they do, it legally must have the letter ‘e’ or the word ‘estimated’ next to the usage charge.2
Estimated bills are often above or below your actual usage. If your Energy Provider estimates too little, they’ll send you a back-bill or add the gap to your next one.3 If they charge you too much, a credit should be applied to your account.4

If you have an estimated bill, you may be able to submit your own meter reading (known as a ‘self-read’) by taking a clear photo of your meter. If your self-read disputes the bill, your Energy Provider must adjust the bill.5 Contact your Energy Provider to forward a self-read.

Rising rates

If nothing else in your house has changed or your energy habits are the same, the good news is it might not be your fault. The bad news is rising energy rates could be behind your electricity bill going up. These rates reflect rising costs elsewhere in the electricity industry, including wholesale prices and network prices,6, 7 with the additional increases flowing on to consumers. At large, these rate rises are happening across the country, with different states and territories experiencing their own increases depending on how their energy market is regulated.

For example, on 1 July 2023 approximately 10% of households in New South Wales, South Australia and South-East Queensland were affected by the Australian Electricity Regulator (AER) raising the Default Market Offer (DMO) by around 21% on average.8 While the DMO only affects standing offer contracts, your Electricity Provider may still have raised rates on market offers in accordance with those rising wholesale and network prices.

Similarly, on 1 July 2023, about 15% of Victorian households had their Energy Plan affected9 by the 25% increase to the Victorian Default Offer.10 On the other side of the country in Western Australia, the State Government raised residential tariffs by 2.5% for the new financial year as well.11

What if my electricity bill is wrong?

If your bill is wrong, or you think it might be, the first step is to double-check the details. Your bill should have a meter number on it; this is what your Energy Provider uses to link your energy usage to your account. So, if you’ve never looked before, go on a bit of a Carmen Sandiego hunt around your house, find your meter and check the meter number. If the number doesn’t match what’s on your bill, take a photo and contact your Energy Provider.

Alternatively, your bill may have the correct meter number but not the right meter reading. This may be because your meter was inaccessible, and your Energy Provider had to estimate your electricity usage. As we covered above, you’ll know this is the case if your bill has the letter ‘e’ or the word ‘estimated’ next to the usage charge. All you need to do then is forward a photograph of your energy meter with the reading clearly visible for your Energy Provider to amend the bill as appropriate.

Remember, if you’ve contacted your Energy Provider regarding an incorrect bill and you’re not happy with how they resolved it, you can escalate the issue by reaching out to your state or territory’s energy ombudsman service.

What else can I do to reduce my electricity bill?

Unfortunately, you can’t do much about electricity price rises. But there are other small changes you can make at home that can add up, resulting in a difference to your bill. 

  • Turn appliances off at the wall
    Some appliances use up electricity even when you’re not actively using them. Getting in the habit of turning things off at the wall can have a big long-term impact on your bill.
  • Switch to LED lights
    LED lights use significantly less electricity, reducing your overall bill. If you can, switch to LED lights. If you’re renting and you can’t change the light bulbs, you could also get some LED standing or table lamps to use instead of the property’s overhead lights. Plus, they’re so relaxing to sit next to while enjoying a glass of wine.
  • Compare providers with iSelect*
    While the grass may not always be greener on the other side, it’s worth taking a peek over the fence to check. With iSelect, you can compare a range of electricity providers to see if a cheaper deal is an option for you.

  • Get your fridge temperatures right
    Making sure your fridge and freezer are at the right settings and are sealed properly can help them run more efficiently. The ideal temperature for your fridge is 3°C and for your freezer it is -18°C.12
  • Try to use electricity in off-peak times
    If you have an electricity meter capable of measuring intervals, you may be able to get an Electricity Plan that uses time-of-use tariffs. This means you can plan your electricity use for off-peak times when your electricity rates are cheaper than peak times.13 While you might not be able to avoid doing some things at peak times, like cooking dinner, try to run your larger appliances, like your washing machine and dishwasher overnight to reduce your overall energy costs.14 Your specific peak and off-peak periods will depend on your Energy Provider.
  • Make sure you have the lowest rates
    If you haven’t looked at your Energy Plan in a while, you might be paying more than you need to. Get in touch with your current Energy Provider or talk to other Energy Providers to see if they can offer you a better deal. Just be sure to check if any deals have limited lifespans, leading to them increasing in price after a certain point.15 You may also be able to access concessions or rebates depending on your circumstances and location to help reduce the cost of your energy bills.
  • Pay your bill on time or ask for an extension
    Some providers offer discounts for paying on time. Set up reminders in your calendar to pay your bill on time or you can use direct debit. Additionally, if you are unable to pay the bill when it is due, you may be able to negotiate an extension or payment plan with your Energy Provider.16 This can help you avoid paying late fees on top of your bill.

Am I eligible for an energy relief fund?

High energy bills have had a large impact on many households, which is why the Australian Government created the Energy Bill Relief Fund. Administered through state and territory governments, the fund has up to $3 billion in relief available for eligible households. You can learn more about this fund through the energy.gov.au website.

As of September 2023, totals available per household in each state are:

  • NSW: $500 once-off per eligible household in the 2023–24 financial year.17
  • SA: $500 paid in $125 instalments quarterly per eligible household18
  • Tasmania: $250 per eligible household paid annually for the next two financial years19
  • Victoria: $250 once-off per eligible household20
  • NT: $350 once-off as a lump sum or split into two or four payments per eligible household21
  • ACT: Total of $175 in quarterly instalments per eligible household,22 with bills also being reduced on average by $152 annually due to the territory’s large-scale feed-in tariff scheme23
  • Queensland: as standard, all households will receive a $550 once-off Cost of Living Rebate, with eligible vulnerable households receiving a $700 Cost of Living Rebate and the $372 Queensland Electricity Rebate24
  • WA: as standard, all households will receive up to $400 once-off, while those eligible for the Energy Concession Extension Scheme (ECES) will receive $500. For the latter, you may already have received this payment.25

Depending on your state and territory, you may be able to access additional cost of living and electricity bill assistance, rebate schemes or discounts. Further, as mentioned above, you may also be able to negotiate payment plans and the like with your Energy Provider.

Where can I compare Electricity Providers?

Save hours on research time by comparing a range of Energy Plans with iSelect*. A better value Electricity Plan could be just around the corner. Get started here.

1 iSelect commissioned i-Link Research to conduct a national online survey between 28 April and 3 May 2023. The sample is n=1,000 Australians 18+ years, with data weighted to represent the population by age, state and gender, and is representative of all Australian adults 18+.
2 Energy and Water Ombudsman Victoria - Estimated bills
3 Energy and Water Ombudsman Victoria - Backbilling, refunds and lost payments
4 As above.
5 Energy Made Easy - Received an energy bill you think is wrong?
6 Australian Energy Regulator - Default market offer prices 2023–24: Final determination, p3–4
7 Essential Services Commission - 2023–24 Victorian Default Offer: Final Decision Factsheet, p3–4
8 Australian Energy Regulator - DMO Electricity price safety net, p1–2
9 Essential Services Commission - 2023–24 Victorian Default Offer: Final Decision Factsheet, p4
10 As above, p1
11 Government of Western Australia - Electricity price changes in Western Australia from 1 July
12 Sustainability Victoria - Reduce fridge and freezer costs at home
13 Energy Made Easy - Which type of tariff is right for you?
14 Government of South Australia - Time of use tariffs
15 Australian Competition & Consumer Commission - Electricity prices and plans
16 Moneysmart - Problems paying your bills and fines
17 energy.gov.au - Energy bill relief for households, NSW
18 energy.gov.au - Energy bill relief for households, South Australia
19 energy.gov.au - Energy bill relief for households, Tasmania
20 Victoria State Government - Help paying your bill
21 Northern Territory Government - Energy Bill Relief - households
22 ACT Revenue Office - Energy Bill Relief Fund
23 energy.gov.au - Energy bill relief for households, ACT
24 Queensland Treasury - Energy bill relief - Tackling the cost of living
25 Government of Western Australia - Household electricity credit