The AEMC today made a draft rule to reduce the risk of customers being exposed to the financial shock of inaccurate estimated bills.

Under the National Energy Retail Rules, electricity and gas retailers may base bills on an estimated read if a meter reader has been unable to do an actual read (due to a locked gate or dog in the yard, for example). 

The draft rule would require retailers to accept meter reads provided by customers who think their estimated electricity or gas bill is wrong. Retailers must also let customers know they can provide their own meter reading if they want, instead of accepting the retailer’s estimate.

Allowing customers to do meter self-reads in these situations would 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 draft rule also clarifies the situations when retailers are able to use an estimate instead of an actual read, as well as the methodology for the estimate. 

The 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 draft rule is the result of a rule change request from 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 draft 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. For more information see the AEMC’s consumer protection action plan to help deliver more affordable energy by giving customers more control over their energy bills.

Media: Communication Director, Prudence Anderson, 0404 821 935 or (02) 8296 781