Trick your power company into giving you a better deal
ENERGY consumers must be prepared to go the extra mile to get the best deal possible, which experts believe will come from your current provider.
Simon Downes from comparison company Canstar Blue believes recruiting and retaining people is essential to energy retailers, who bank on customer complacency in the years after they win them over with deals and discounts.
And while shopping around is a great place to start, a customer can secure their best offer if they actually switch providers and use the cooling off period to negotiate a better deal from their original retailer.
"The key is to convince them you're prepared to switch and there is no better way to do this than to actually switch," Mr Downes said. "Your retailer would rather make less money from you than not have you as a customer at all. Your job is to get your retailer to pull out all the stops to keep you."
Switching and then renegotiating a better deal sounds more complicated than it is.
"When you switch there is a 10 day cooling off period during which you can change your mind and not incur any charges from your new retailer," Mr Downes said. "This is your consumer right and there is nothing wrong with doing it. I have heard examples of customers getting double the conditional discount offered to new customers to keep them."
Energy customers are fed up after huge cost increases in recent times. Canstar research shows the average standard offer annual bill in South Australia has increased by 20 per cent in the last year, from $2823 to $3385.
Victoria saw an 18 per cent increase to $2382 and New South Wales a 17 per cent rise to $2569, while prices in south east Queensland rose by 7 per cent on average to $2435.
The increases are significant, but become worse when comparing standard offers to market offers, which are the best deals.
"The difference between the cheapest market offer and most expensive standard contract in New South Wales is $1800," Mr Downes said. "That means there are customers paying as much as $1800 a year more than they need to. It is frightening."
Customers agree and are voting with their feet. A recent One Big Switch (OBS) campaign saw more than 120,000 Australian households register in a bid to use people power to secure a group discount.
OBS campaign director Joel Gibson said there had been larger price hikes than usual.
"Bills go up every July in most states and all the experts were predicting this price rise would be a monster because wholesale prices have doubled over about 18 months," Mr Gibson said. "The Prime Minister has also put a stake in the ground, saying this parliament will be judged on how it handles the energy crisis."
The upside of an increase in the number of customers shopping around was some better deals on offer.
"With steep price rises coming, (providers) knew they were going to lose a lot of customers," Mr Gibson said. "They also knew those customers were all going to have to find a new energy plan. So the best discounts on market have also increased and we've been able to capitalise on that."
HOW I GOT A DISCOUNT FROM PROVIDERS
MIA Steiber was in the dark when presented with an astronomical gas bill.
The 26-year-old professional was living in a share apartment with two others on Sydney's northern beaches.
Soon after moving in, they noticed their gas was costing them far more than their electricity usage.
"We were getting gas bills of $400 for a 60 day period, compared to electricity of around $130 a quarter," Ms Steiber said. "The only things using gas were the stove and hot water. Our provider couldn't tell us why."
One particular billing period made it obvious there was a major problem.
"We were all overseas for all but 14 days of the April and May billing period and it was our highest ever bill," Ms Steiber said. "When I used to live at home with my parents in a four-bedroom house with multiple bathrooms, we were only paying around $200 a quarter on gas. The bill for when we were only here for 14 days was around $650. Gas is supposed to be cheaper than electricity, that's the selling point."
The housemates contacted their strata, former repairman and the real estate agency and no one could shed light on their situation.
"We even thought to try stopping the hot water cycles on the dishwasher and washing machines but found that both appliances actually heated their own water using electricity and not gas," Ms Steiber said.
They launched a case with the ombudsman and began shopping for a better deal.
"We were using comparison services to see what would be best," Ms Steiber said. "The government comparison tool we used ironically suggested the provider we were already with."
Ms Steiber moved out of the apartment in August to live with her partner, but remains involved as the Ombudsman case continues.
"Some of the advice we've had, and this is also my theory, is that because the building we were in was low occupancy- the apartment next to ours was vacant and a few others were above us too- there was a giant water heater servicing the whole building and I think the cost of running that must be split across the few apartments with tenants," she said.
The experience taught Ms Steiber to take a more active interest in her energy deals.
"I was cautious about who we signed up with when we moved," she said. "When I shopped around I asked providers what happened if there was a problem with the gas or water.
"When I talked to providers on the phone and told them I was shopping around and not committed to any deals yet, they started throwing discounts at me.
"The process of doing the research taught me that we could actually afford the little luxuries. "In our old apartment I worried whenever we had too many showers, or I would boil the kettle for hot water to wash the dishes. I didn't want to pay extra rent for an apartment with air conditioning, but not be able to use it. I just made sure we were with a provider that wouldn't charge us an arm and a leg to do so."