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, based on the customer’s past usage. The distributor can estimate any period of up to 6 months before the meter was last read. The National Energy Customer Framework outlines that a meter must be read at least every 12 months and that up to nine months of bills can be estimated.
According to the Electricity Supply (General) Regulation 2001 (Clause 37) and Gas Supply (Natural Gas Retail Competition) Regulation 2001 (Clause 37), if there is no access to the meter a provider must advise the customer that the account has been estimated and:
- give them the opportunity to pay the estimated account; or
- pay an amount determined by the provider after obtaining access to the metering equipment
When the retailer issues a bill to the customer based on this read, the fact that it is estimated should be clearly shown on the invoice.
Both regulations imply that there should be an actual read of a meter every 12 months.
Where access is an ongoing problem, the provider may require a customer to make an appointment to provide access for a special meter read. A special meter reading fee may be charged in these circumstances (see Miscellaneous Fees).
For more the legislation on estimated bills see Electricity Supply (General) Regulation 2001 (Clause 36) and Gas Supply (Natural Gas Retail Competition) Regulation 2001 (Clause 36).
Failure to provide access
Ultimately the provider has the authority to discontinue supplying premises where there is failure to provide this access.
After a customer receives an account based on an estimated reading, a retailer may agree to accept a customer’s reading of their own meter. This will be considered an estimated read.
Special meter reading fee
If a customer is concerned that their bill is high because 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 for this.
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 9 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 an 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.