Electricity is a necessity, but electricity bills can be a nasty surprise, or something you dread receiving. It doesn't have to be like that.
Savvy consumers treat utilities such as electricity and gas as something you switch as often as possible to make sure you're always getting the best price.
Better $50 or more going into your pocket than someone else's, right? And sometimes it can be much, much more of a saving – which is always a pleasant surprise.
During the 12 months we ran Transformer, our energy retailer switching service, we gathered a lot of data on how the energy retailers compared for price, customer service and environmental sustainability. Here's what we found.
There is no best electricity provider across all Australia.
Since only NSW, Victoria, South Australia and South East Queensland are deregulated, we can't give a best Australian electricity provider overall, however EnergyAustralia served NSW and South East Queensland well, and Tango was the best for Victoria. While we would've liked to have supplied SA results, we didn't have over 30 switches for any one provider (see How we get our results). We were only able to compare publicly available plans, and not retention schemes devised by energy retailers, which are not public.
We found a small number of electricity providers that showed a number of issues during the year of Transformer operation, including:
Pricing problems with electricity providers
- Sumo and Globird in Victoria were accused of bait-and-switch tactics for changing prices soon after switching customers, and the ACCC took Click Energy to court for false or misleading marketing claims about discounts and savings.
- Sumo in Victoria and NSW had high penalties for late payments, sometimes above 40% of the entire bill. Strangely enough, energy retailers spin this late payment fee as a benefit.
Without Transformer, it would've been difficult to detect these changes, as we were checking bills on a three-monthly basis.
It's not all bad – some electricity providers are actually decent when it comes to pricing
- EnergyAustralia and Tango gave secure fixed pricing in contracts at competitive rates, as part of their EnergyAustralia No Frills and Tango Home Select and eSelect plans. These plans also don't have 'discounts' so don't impose large late payment penalties.
- Momentum, Qenergy and Tango had no late payment penalties.
Customer service problems with electricity providers
We also learned a lot about issues with customer service, especially in regards to bill clarity, website ease-of-use, communications, call centres, online chat and ease of switching:
- PowerShop's app was easy to read; their bill was not.
- Websites should be easy to navigate, with rates and charges easily identified, unlike PowerDirect's site.
- Poor feedback on call centres (Dodo, Globird, PowerDirect, Qenergy and Sumo).
- Some didn't have online chat, Sumo used scripts rather than a real person, and Alinta's support was less than satisfactory.
- You'd think ease of switching would be an electricity provider's most important task. But PowerDirect made you switch through a call centre only, as did Simply if there was some complexity such as solar, flexible tariff or life-support requirements. Alinta was unreliable when switching online so we had feedback that people thought they were switched when they weren't. Red was a mix of online form and SMS.
It's not all bad – electricity providers that are actually decent when it comes to customer service
- AGL, EnergyAustralia, Energy Locals, Lumo, Origin and Simply had good or very good customer service.
Green energy rating problems with electricity providers
- People who want to invest in green energy have limited choice. There were plenty of providers who simply didn't have plans during the year Transformer was operating, including Alinta, Amaysim, Globird, Mojo, Sumo and Tango.
It's not all bad – electricity providers that are actually decent when it comes to green energy
- There are also plenty that do, and even offer more than one plan if you want to go for a percentage of green energy or the whole hog, including AGL, Diamond, EnergyAustralia, Energy Locals, Momentum and PowerDirect.
Now that Transformer has finished operation, you don't have to go to commercial switching sites like iSelect and Comparethemarket. There are some free alternatives such as Energy Made Easy, a federal government initiative, as well as some state-based switching options – though only the NSW one compares your bill. We'd like to see more states offer this service, and the fact that NSW has successfully offered it sets a good example for other states to follow.