Ever-rising power bills have become a big problem for Australian households with 17 per cent not always able to pay their utility bills on time, according to ME Bank's August Household Financial Comfort Report.
On average, domestic electricity and gas prices have risen 72 per cent and 54 per cent over the past 10 years, making them among the highest in the world.
Power prices have become a political hot potato; maybe one day our pollies will implement policies to sort the mess, but don't hold your breath!
In the meantime there are things you can do to minimise your bills. But a warning, comparing power suppliers is not easy and takes time and dedication. And you often have to fight to get the best deal.
Three rules to keep in mind
1) No more loyalty! Your loyalty to a supplier is rarely rewarded, with many reserving their best deals for new clients.
2) Don't trust all comparison sites – some compare as few as 10 suppliers.
3) Don't fall for selecting the biggest discount on offer as, alas, it's not always the cheapest deal.
If you want to find the best deal for you – and are prepared to spend some time and effort – a good starting place is the Australian Energy Regulator's website, except if you live in Victoria where you will be redirected to this site.
Answer a few simple questions and usage details from a recent bill and the site will list relevant offers. The difference between the best and the worst deal can be staggering; for me the site listed 82 offers ranging from $2700 to $4704 a year! You can also compare gas suppliers.
If you find a better deal – and if you haven't switched for a while it's very likely you will – you can make a move, providing you're not on a fixed contract. Or you can ask your existing supplier for a better deal. But this is only effective if you're armed with information on superior plans from rivals.
For those who don't have the time or energy to put in the grunt work needed to find the best power deals, consumer group Choice launched Transformer earlier this year, which compares plans from 33 retailers.
"You send a copy of your power bill to firstname.lastname@example.org, the transformer team analyses your bill, taking everything into account – making it superior to some comparison sites," says general manager Peter Giles.
If it finds a deal that's more than $99 cheaper than your current one you can pay $99 to have Transformer switch you to that plan. As part of the deal Transformer will continue to monitor the best plan for you for 12 months and switch you if a better deal comes along.
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Three extra tips and tricks to help limit your energy bills
1) Pensioners, low-income earners and some people with medical conditions may be eligible for rebates or concessions on their energy bills.
2) A lot of these rebates are state or territory based. For a full list go to the government's consumer website, and search for "problems paying your utility debts".
3) Your electricity or gas provider should also be able to help you with this. Many also provide "bill smoothing", where you can make fortnightly or monthly payments towards your future utility bills so it's not so painful when the big bills hit.