It's important to understand your rights and responsibilities if you receive a bill based on an estimated meter read or a backbill.
Retailers are responsible for reading meters, testing and replacing faulty meters.
You have an obligation to provide safe and unhindered access to the meter. If the meter reader is not able to access the meter, the provider will issue an ‘estimated’ read, based on your past usage or the usage of comparable households.
If a bill is based on an estimated read, this should be clearly shown on your bill. If the estimated bill results in you being over or under-charged, this will be adjusted in the bill following the next actual meter reading. Below are common questions we receive about estimated bills and meter reading.
How often are bills issued?
If you're on a standard retail contract, your electricity provider must issue bills at least once every three months. If you're on a market contract, the frequency of bills will depend on the terms and conditions of your contract. With water bills, the frequency will be specified in your customer contract.
Can a meter reader enter my property?
According to the Electricity Supply Act 1995 (Section 55) and Gas Supply Act 1996 (Section 56) a provider has the right to enter a customer's property to read the meter without prior notice or consent.
How is an estimated bill calculated?
If the meter reader is unable to access your meter, your bill will be based on the estimated read provided to the retailer. The estimate may be based on historical metering data or, where this is not available, on average usage of a comparable customer.
After the next actual meter read, your bill will be adjusted for any usage above or below the estimate. If the estimated bill was overcharged you may notice the next bill is less than your usual bills. If the estimated bill was undercharged the next bill may be higher than usual. For the legislation on estimated bills see National Energy Retail Rules (Clause 21).
The provider can base three consecutive quarterly bills on estimated reads, but must arrange for an actual read to be taken if access to the meter continues to be a problem after 12 months.
Can I provide a self-read to my provider?
If you have a non-digital meter and receive an account based on an estimated reading, you can ask your provider to adjust the bill by providing your own meter reading. If the read is not accepted, the retailer must notify you and explain why.
What is a special meter read?
A special meter read is an actual meter reading taken outside of the usual reading cycle. If you are concerned that your bill is high because the estimated reading is incorrect, you can ask your provider for a special meter read. The provider is only allowed to charge you for a special meter reading if it confirms that the billing is correct.
How often is my meter read?
The provider must do its best to ensure that actual readings are carried out at least once every 12 months. If access to your meter is a problem, you may be asked to make an appointment for a special read and you will be charged a fee for this.
I have a digital meter – why am I getting estimated bills?
Some digital meters in NSW are currently not ‘smart meters’. This means that they do not have mobile communications technology built in and cannot be read remotely. The meter reader must still attend your property to download the data. Sometimes there can be problems when the data is collected, which should be rectified when your next meter read is done and your next bill may be adjusted.
If your provider has undercharged a small retailer customer, there is a limit of nine months within which they can recover an amount payable. For example, a provider may issue a backbill covering a two year period, however, they are only able to recover charges for the 9 months prior to the date of issue of the bill. However, if you don’t allow access to the meter and you receive a catch up bill, there is no limit on the length of time the retailer can backbill you.
Customers who have received an electricity or gas backbill are entitled to a payment extension equivalent to the period of time covered by the backbill. This extension is not automatically provided by a provider, but the extension must be provided if requested by the customer.
A retailer is also obliged to provide up to two years of historical billing data at no charge. If the data requested is older than two years, the retailer is allowed to charge the customer for the reasonable costs of obtaining and supplying copies of bills.
Darren lives in a community housing unit and since 2013 was provided with estimated meter readings for his gas usage. He felt that his bills were overestimated, so provided a self-read to the retailer, however his bills were not adjusted. Darren was asked to provide a photo of the meter reading but he did not have phone with a camera, and could not send emails, which he felt was a disadvantage.
We contacted the retailer and established that, based on the Darren’s self-read, the hot water meter was not registering consumption and needed to be replaced. The retailer adjusted Darren’s estimated hot water usage to reflect a reasonable level. It also rebilled the account for the period April 2018 to April 2020 resulting in a credit balance of $478. It then applied a credit of $287 for the period September 2014 to July 2017, which was the difference between the billed and adjusted data.
The retailer also offered a customer service gesture of $150 which resulted in a credit balance of $940. The provider committed to replace the meter as soon as possible.