Billing and reading meters
Distributors are responsible for reading meters and sending the data to the retailer, who manages a customer's account and issues bills. They are also responsible for testing and replacing faulty meters.
Right to enter 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.
Estimated and actual reads (energy providers)
The electricity, gas or water distributor for the area is responsible for reading the meter and sending the meter data to the retailer. If the meter reader is not able to access the meter (e.g. due to a locked gate, or a dog in the yard), the distributor will provide the retailer with an ‘estimated’ read, usually based on the customer’s past usage.
According to the National Energy Retail Rules (Clause 21), if there is no access to the meter a provider must advise the customer on the bill that the account has been estimated.
After the next actual meter read, the customer’s bill will be adjusted for any usage above or below the estimate.
If the estimated bill was overcharged the customer may notice the next bill based on an actual meter read is a little bit less than their usual bills.
If the estimated bill was undercharged the customer may notice the next bill based on an actual meter read is higher than their usual bills. If a customer needs time to pay the amount of the bill they can request this from the provider. The provider must offer the customer the opportunity to pay the amount in instalments over a period of up to 12 months, if the customer asks.
For the legislation on estimated bills see National Energy Retail Rules (Clause 21).
Failure to provide access
Ultimately the provider has the authority to discontinue supplying premises where there is a failure to provide this access.
After a small customer with an electricity accumulation meter or gas meter receives an account based on an estimated reading, they can ask their retailer to adjust the bill by providing their own read of the meter. Self reads must be in accordance with the retailer’s guidance and requirements and the retailer must receive the read before the account’s due date. If the read is not accepted, the retailer must notify the customer and explain why.
Special meter reading fee
If a customer is concerned that their bill is high and they believe their meter reading is incorrect, they can ask their retailer for a special meter read. The retailer is able to charge the customer a special meter reading fee if the special reading shows that the original reading was correct. This fee can only be charged after the special reading has taken place.
According to legislation, “a bill must be issued by a provider to a small retail customer under a customer supply contract at least once every 3 months”. For customers on a negotiated contract, the frequency of their bills will depend on the terms and conditions of their contract.
For water customers, the frequency of bills will be specified in their customer contract.
According to the electricity and gas regulations where a 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.