You’re not the only one confused by your power bill, but Vinnies wants to make switching easier

Most Australians are filled with dread at the thought of opening their quarterly power bills, including Mark Hovell.

The 48-year-old from Melbourne's eastern suburbs did not use his heating in winter because he could not afford to pay.

"It was freezing, it did not matter how many layers of clothes you put on it was cold," he said.

Mr Hovell spent the past eight months trying to find a better deal and found the process overwhelming.

"Trying to work out what I was paying was one of the hardest things I've ever done. It's wrong, it should be made a lot easier," he said.

The difficulties of understanding the market have been outlined in St Vincent De Paul Society's annual report on the National Energy Market.

The report also confirmed South Australians paid the most for their power bill this year, while residents in the ACT had the cheapest bills.

Policy and research manager Gavin Dufty said that did not come as a surprise.

"South Australia is the network at the end of the world and I don't mean that in a bad way … it's the first state in Australia that is going through the energy transformation and that does have costs with it and also some issues around challenges of reliability," he said.

Households could save by switching

According to the report, households could save up to $200 a year if they switched between the three big retailers.

But Mr Dufty thinks the savings could be even greater if consumers looked beyond the major companies.

"In the past we had seen Origin Energy, AGL and Energy Australia taking it up to each other and trying to undercut them, now we are seeing nominal differentials between the big three," he said.

"If they're not going toe-to-toe, that means 70 to 80 per cent of people in the market aren't getting the best deal that they should."

While consumers could find better deals with smaller retailers, Mr Dufty said navigating all of the power policies on offer was a difficult task and the options should be reduced.

He wants the Government to instruct the Australian Energy Regulator to monitor the deals and remove those that confuse or mislead consumers.

"We get onto the problems early and not be in a position now where we are trying to clean-up, in the case of Victoria, eight years of market development where the genie is out of the bottle and it is really hard to put back in," Mr Dufty said.

Protecting consumers

Changes to electricity prices in Australia July 2009 to July 2017 as estimated annual bills.

St Vincent De Paul is adamant more can be done to ensure consumers are not ripped off.

It wants a shakeup of the National Energy Customer Framework, which is in charge of regulating the connection, supply and sale of electricity and gas.

Mr Dufty said the Framework's priorities were wrong, because it was set up before some states privatised their electricity networks.

"So it was in the people who developed its interest to have a market developed in a particular way that might have protected states revenues, not necessarily the consumer," he said.

"We have moved a long way from that point now."

Better days ahead?

There is some good news — bill relief is in sight.

Mr Dufty has been charting prices for years and predicts power bills will drop in the years ahead.

"I think one or two years till things hit peak, and then after that we will start to see a trajectory coming down," he said.

But he has warned that was only possible if state and federal governments worked together.

Energy Ministers are meeting in Hobart today to discuss what can be done to reduce power bills and ensure the lights remain on, with the National Energy Guarantee up for discussion.

"We do need some policy certainty and hopefully the COAG energy council can start to agree on moving forward," Mr Dufty said.

"And that is important because uncertainty does create risk and delays investment, and that drives up cost."

Original Article

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