Comparing retailers and contracts, and choosing an energy deal
There are many energy retailers servicing South Australia, and each has different offers you can choose between. Regularly comparing the different options on the market will ensure you’re getting the best deal for your needs.
Find a retailer
Visit the Australian Government's free Energy Made Easy website to compare the different offers from retailers servicing South Australia.
To compare offers you can:
- enter very basic details, to display a range of offers without pricing
- allow the website to estimate the energy use of your home, to display a range offers with approximate pricing
- enter energy usage details from a recent electricity/gas bill, to display a range of offers with estimated pricing specifically for your home. For the best results, use a year’s worth of bills so you can include your energy use across all seasons.
You can also contact your energy retailer and ask if they can improve your current deal. If you decide to switch to a different type of contract, make sure you understand any fees associated with switching, eg exit or early termination fees.
Understanding contract types
There are two types of energy contract available in South Australia: a standard retail contract and a market retail contract.
If you’re not sure what sort of contract you’re currently on, check your bill for information or ask your retailer.
There is a lot of variation between plans and retailers, so you should carefully read and understand the terms and conditions of any contract you are considering before agreeing to it to ensure that it suits your needs.
Standard retail contracts
Standard retail contracts are offered by all electricity and gas retailers and have standardised terms and conditions set by law. Retailers can’t change these terms and conditions.
Unless you specify to your retailer that you want to sign up to a market retail contract (see below), you may be on a standard retail contract. These contracts have no exit fees and you can change to a different contract at any time.
Tariffs charged under a standard retail contract can only be changed every six months. If there is a change in your tariff, your retailer must publish a notice on their website and in a relevant newspaper at least 10 days before the change happens. They must also notify you of the change as part of your next bill.
As standard retail contracts may have higher tariffs, you may be able to save on your energy bills by switching to a market retail contract.
Market retail contracts
Market retail contracts often include discounts and benefits to suit different customers’ needs. In most cases, market retail contracts are more competitive and cheaper than standard retail contracts but may include exit fees and tariffs that can change at any time.
Things that may differ between plans and retailers include:
- tariff rates and charges (including different tariffs for solar customers)
- fees and penalties, eg late payments or contract termination
- conditional discounts (only received for specific things), eg paying on time or by direct debit
- non-conditional discounts (received no matter what), eg a percentage off every bill as a result of signing up to the contract
- billing frequency
- payment arrangements, eg whether Centrepay is accepted
- contract length
- incentives, eg gift vouchers or movie tickets.
All energy retailers must offer at least one market retail contract with no exit fees.
While market retail contracts may vary, they must still comply with the minimum consumer protection requirements in the National Energy Retail Rules. If there is a change in tariff, your retailer must notify you as soon as possible but no later than your next bill.
Things to consider when choosing an energy deal
Do you use electricity only, or gas, too?
Some energy retailers will offer you a contract that covers both electricity and gas, but it may be cheaper to source electricity and gas separately. Search for both ‘dual fuel’ contracts as well as separate electricity and gas contracts, and compare the pricing.
If you sign up to a dual fuel contract for electricity and gas, check whether you will receive one bill covering both fuels or two separate bills.
Do you have solar panels?
If you have a solar PV system at your home, you may be eligible to receive a solar feed-in payment. Not all retailers will offer contracts to solar customers, so use the Energy Made Easy website to find solar contracts. Check the pricing details in the energy price fact sheet, including the value of the feed-in payment offered by the retailer and what the daily supply charge is, as sometimes the supply charge is higher for solar customers.
Do you have a meter that records off-peak usage?
An off-peak tariff or ‘controlled load’ tariff is a cheaper price for electricity used to heat water at ‘off-peak’ times when the demand for electricity is at its lowest. These tariffs are generally only available when the hot water system or other appliance is separately metered and can be time-controlled to operate at low-demand times.
Off-peak tariffs may be applied to:
- permanently installed storage water heaters with a capacity of 125 litres or more (including electric-boosted solar water heaters)
- underfloor (slab) heating
- heat bank systems
- swimming pool or spa heating elements (not pumps or other related equipment).
Check a recent electricity bill to see if you use off-peak electricity, which will be indicated by an ‘off-peak’ or ‘controlled load’ tariff. If you do, it may be useful to look for a market contract that includes this tariff.
How long is the contract?
The length (or term) of energy contracts can vary. Choose a contract that suits your living situation, eg if you want to change contracts frequently because you’re moving house or looking for the best deal, a no exit fee contract may allow greater flexibility.
Are the billing arrangements and payment methods suitable for you?
Find out how often you will receive a bill. If you choose to be on a standard retail contract, your retailer must send you a bill at least once every three months. Billing frequency for market retail contracts may vary – check the terms and conditions of the contract or the energy price fact sheet for details.
Ask the retailer what payment methods are accepted (eg direct debit, Centrepay, electronic transfer or payment at post offices) and ask if there are any extra fees and charges for these different payment methods.Is there a fixed price or fixed benefit?
Some market retail contracts may offer fixed pricing, either for a set amount of time or for the life of the contract.
If you are considering a fixed price contract (sometimes called ‘price guarantee’ or ‘price freeze’), read the energy price fact sheet carefully to understand which part of the price is fixed. Some contracts may only fix the usage charges of the contract while other charges, such as the supply charge, will still vary.
Phrases like ‘fixed term’ relate to the length of the contract. Phrases like ‘fixed benefit period’ relate to the length of time that a benefit or discount will apply under the contract. Neither of these phrases relates to the pricing in the contract, which means the charges may still vary.
An evergreen contract is when the agreement to supply energy continues until you or the retailer end the contract. Evergreen contracts usually include a fixed benefit period that runs an agreed length of time, eg 12 months. At the end of the 12 months, the fixed benefit will end but the contract with the retailer will continue.
If there are discounts, what do you have to do to receive them?
Market retail contracts often include substantial discounts. Make sure you understand:
- what the discount applies to
- whether the discount is conditional on other things in the contract.
A non-conditional discount is a guaranteed discount that is generally applied purely for signing up to the contract, eg you may receive a 5% discount off each bill for the length of the contract.
Discounts can apply to usage charges, supply charges or to the total bill.
A conditional discount only applies if you do something specific, eg pay your bill on time or by direct debit. If you normally pay your bills before or on the date they are due, then you may benefit from a pay-on-time discount. If you use Centrepay to manage your energy bills, check with your retailer to see if these payments are still eligible for pay-on-time discounts.
TOTAL AMOUNT: $303.52
DUE DATE: 17 Jul 2015
Pay on time discount: $35.44 Cr
Discounted total if paid on or before the due date: $268.08
Example of a pay-on-time discount
If you are not always in a position to pay your bill on time, a non-conditional discount off your usage charges or bill may be more beneficial to you than a conditional discount.
Check your energy price fact sheet or speak to your retailer to clarify any discount being offered.
Is using renewable energy important to you?
You can purchase energy generated by renewable energy sources and added to the generation mix of the electricity grid through the government-accredited GreenPower program.
By purchasing GreenPower, you commit your electricity retailer to purchasing the equivalent amount of electricity from renewable sources rather than fossil fuels, like coal. The electricity the retailer purchases is fed into the electricity grid, rather than provided directly to your home.
Retailers may charge more for green energy than standard electricity, to help support Australia’s renewable energy accredited generators.
Flexible pricing for advanced digital meters
Residential customers with advanced digital meters (smart meters) may be able to access flexible pricing options for their electricity supply, such as demand tariffs.
Demand tariffs encourage customers to minimise their energy use during peak usage periods when the electricity network is experiencing significant demand.
Demand tariffs include two different components: a consumption charge and a demand charge.
- The consumption charge component is a price per kilowatt-hour of electricity used in a home. It is cheaper than the consumption charges under the current network tariffs associated with standard or market contracts.
- The demand charge component is based on the maximum amount of power used in a home for 30 minutes within a peak demand timeframe (4.00 to 9.00 pm daily). The home’s electricity demand is measured every day for a month, and the day with the highest demand determines the demand charge. The maximum demand is recalculated each month, so customers may be able to lower the demand charge component of their tariff if they can lower the amount of electricity they use during the peak demand timeframe. A higher demand charge applies during summer (November to March).
Some customers will benefit from demand tariffs and others may pay more. Customers who are able to use less electricity during peak demand times are most likely to benefit.
Note that the term ‘off-peak’ in the context of demand tariffs has a different meaning to the ‘off-peak electricity’ referred to in current energy contracts (see 'do you have a meter that records off-peak usage?' above).
Signing up with an energy retailer
You can agree to a contract with a retailer:
- in writing with a signature
- verbally on the telephone, as long as the retailer electronically records you agreeing
- by electronic communication generated by the customer.
It is important that you understand what you are being offered and what your obligations are before you agree to anything – see rights and responsibilities for more information. Energy Made Easy can give independent advice about understanding energy contracts, as can the Government of South Australia’s Energy Advisory Service.
When an energy retailer offers you an energy contract, they must give you information about the contract, including:
- all prices and charges, including early termination payments and penalties, security deposits, service levels, concessions or rebates, billing and payment arrangements, and how any of these may be changed
- the commencement date and duration of the contract, availability of extensions, and termination of the contract
- how electronic communication may take place and any rights or obligations the customer has when electronic communication is used
- the rights that a customer has to withdraw from the contract during the cooling-off period, including how to exercise those rights
- the customer’s right to complain to the retailer about any energy marketing activity the retailer’s marketer conducted on behalf of the retailer and, if the complaint is not satisfactorily resolved by the retailer, the customer’s right to complain to the energy ombudsman.
All market retail contracts have a 10 business day cooling off period, which begins on the date you receive information about the energy contract. This means you can change your mind and cancel the contract within this timeframe without having to pay any costs associated with the contract. You don’t need to give the retailer a reason for changing your mind but must contact them to tell them you want to cancel the contract.
Ask for energy price fact sheets
Energy price fact sheets provide key details about electricity and gas contracts, including prices and conditions of a contract, and can be used to compare offers from retailers.
Energy price fact sheets are available on the Energy Made Easy website and on retailers’ websites. You can also ask retailers to send you copies of fact sheets.
Energy price fact sheets include:
- the name of the contract and the retailer selling the contract
- tariff type, which indicates if the contract is available to people wanting a basic ‘single rate tariff’ or a ‘two rate tariff’ if you also use off-peak electricity for an electric storage water heater, pool pump or underfloor heating. If you use off-peak electricity, you will see charges for ‘controlled load’ or ‘off-peak load’
- tariff rates, including the unit price to pay in cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for electricity and cents per megajoule (MJ) for gas, any fixed or standing charge in cents per day, and any solar feed-in tariffs (if relevant). Electricity contracts may have seasonal tariffs, which reflect the extra costs of supplying electricity in summer when demand is usually higher
- all fees, including any fees for establishing an account, exiting a contract, late payments, disconnection, reconnection and payment processing
- all discounts and rebates, including conditional discounts (like paying on time) and non-conditional discounts that apply
- length of the contract
- cooling off period
- where to find full terms and conditions
- how prices can be changed and how you will be notified of any changes.
Think about how much energy is used in your home and at what time of day. Different retailers may increase their prices in steps as more energy is used, so it’s important to fully check contract terms to ensure changing contracts will improve outcomes for your household.
Switching energy retailers
If you want to switch retailers, make sure you consider:
- any debts you have with your current retailer, as you may have to pay these off immediately and in full
- what cancellation or early termination fees you may have to pay if you are ending a fixed-term contract before its end date
- any hardship arrangements you have with your current retailer. If you are in a hardship program, your final bill and any outstanding debt may need to be paid in full. Also be aware that just because you are in your current retailer’s hardship program, it does not mean a new retailer will let you enter their hardship program
- if you will need to pay a security deposit to the new retailer – if you have outstanding debts, a retailer may ask you for a security deposit, which will be refunded once you have established a good payment record.
The transfer process
Your new retailer will organise the transfer process from your existing retailer. The transfer will happen on the date of the next scheduled meter reading but can happen sooner if you request a special meter reading, which may incur a cost.
Your new retailer must tell you what date your new contract started within five business days of it starting. The existing contract will automatically end when the new one starts and you will receive a final bill from your existing retailer, which will include any outstanding debt.
Concessions or life-support equipment
You will need to transfer any concessions you are entitled to and any Centrepay arrangements you have to your new retailer, as this will not happen automatically – see Moving concessions when switching energy retailers or moving house for more information.
You must also notify your new retailer, and provide confirmation from a doctor if someone at the property uses life-support equipment.
Telemarketing or door-to-door sales
Energy retailers may market their products to potential customers in person, by phone, by mail or electronically. Salespeople must comply with requirements set out by law when marketing to customers. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission provides easy to understand information about telemarketing and door-to-door sales, including what your consumer rights are.
If you want to prevent door-to-door salespeople from visiting your home, you can display a Do Not Knock sign prominently at your home.
To reduce telephone contact from telemarketers, add your phone number to the Do Not Call register.
Different energy retailers and contractors may knock on your door offering free or low-cost home energy activities, such as replacement shower heads or discounted energy efficient light globes. For more information, see Energy efficiency assistance.