Paying bills. Yuk.
No-one likes paying bills—they’re not fun, but they’re a fact of life. But what’s the alternative? Cold showers in the dark? Eviction? Credit-card debt and a crap credit rating? Not exactly a crack up.
So, ok, you’ll have to pay them, ideally on time.
First, you have to work out what you’ll need to connect
- You’ll probably need to arrange electricity connection, and possibly gas if your residence has gas hot water or appliances.
- Water is usually organised by your landlord (but you may need to pay excess – check with your agent or landlord).
- Home phone needs to be connected unless you plan to only use mobiles, and you may want to bundle this with other stuff like internet – you can either split bills between house members or ask your phone company about getting a PIN number for each housemate to keep track of phone bills individually.
- Luxury-lovers who want cable TV or other extras should probably wait to see if they cope with the essentials first.
Next you need to decide which company to go with
This can actually make quite a difference to the amount you have to pay, so if you have a choice of utility provider it’s worthwhile to do a bit of research into plans (I know, you feel like switching off at the thought).
The good thing is there’s plenty of help available with choosing the best plans for you if you know where to look, and how to avoid the pitfalls. See which company, below for how to choose a good provider and plan.
Ask your retailer for a discount. They often offer discounts of up to 15% if customers ask. So why pay more?
If you are able to use most of your power at off-peak times (that is, at night and weekends), ask your chosen retailer about going on a ‘time of use’ plan.
You usually pay a bit more for your service charge and a little more for your daytime power, but around half price for any power you use between 10pm and 6am and on weekends.
Finally, whose name will each bill be in?
NOTE: This person is responsible for paying.
- If the bills are in your name, see if your retailer has pay-in-advance options, or get each housemate to pay you a weekly amount (you’ll be better covered if things go awry plus it’ll minimise the stress when bills arrive).
- It’s usually a good idea to work out a regular day to collect money (e.g. payday).
- Keep records of what each person pays and, if possible, give and/or get receipts – it’s best to have evidence of what everyone has paid (even good friends forget things).
- Grab a receipt book form the newsagents or just write one up.
Electricity and gas distributors maintain infrastructure (power poles, lines, meters, the gas pipeline network and gas supply) – if there is a problem, like a broken pipe or interrupted service, for example, they have to fix it.
You can find out who your distributor is, plus get their phone number, from one of your bills or from your energy retailer (the company you buy your power, gas etc. from).
You should call them straight away, day or night, if you have an emergency or notice a problem.
Which company should you choose?
Depending where you live, you probably have a choice of energy. Obviously, you’ll want the best deal possible so do your research before you hand over your cash.
You’ll need a rough idea what your electricity and gas usage will be (what kind of hot water do you have, for example? Whether it’s electric, gas or solar will make a big difference to your usage pattern); plus when you’ll mostly use it and what retailers are available in your area.
If you don’t know, you can use energy supplier comparison websites and put in info like your postal or zip code, how many people live in your house and whether it is a house or apartment, to get an estimate of your usage and bring up a ranked list of plans available in your area.
While comparison websites are a useful tool in finding deals, it is best to use government-provided sites if possible, as commercial sites often work with retailers and mightn’t get you the cheapest rate (some will organise all your connections for you, but they’ll probably cost more overall).
Read the boring fine print before you sign
Or it could cost you
- Lots of plans look great at first, with big discounts if you pay on time, but many of these have high fees if you pay your bills late. If you ARE late with bills (and it happens more than you think), these discount plans can actually cost a lot more.
- Check what happens if you break the contract early. This is especially important for renters, as you can’t always control whether you can finish your contract (e.g. if your landlord decides to sell up or terminate your lease).
- Also check the cooling off period – this is the time you are given to look over your contract, check any fees, charges and conditions, and make sure you’re happy with it all.
- Ask about the connection fees. Most energy retailers charge them, so check what they are before choosing a plan.
- Also ask about any bonds due — some retailers charge one then refund it at the end of your contract, although they might not charge one if you pay by direct debit. Ask for these details so you know exactly what you’re up for.
- Find out if you can pay in advance. It’s easier to stay on top of things, especially if someone moves out.
Dweezil was part-way through an internet contract when his landlord decided to sell and end the lease early. Dweezil’s next rental was outside the network coverage area, so he had to pay a large early leavers’ fee.
If there’s a high fee for ending a contract early you might need to consider another plan, or go with another supplier.
If you’re struggling to pay the bills, first ask your retailer what help they can give you. Always start with your retailer, as they often have schemes to help people pay their bills, from ways to help you reduce your usage, to helping you check the best available rate for you, as well as payment plans and/or payment in advance.
If you need extra help, you can try local charities or some government departments in your area to find out what other assistance might be available to you.
One-off assistance is available in some places. For example, in Australia, you can get a voucher from some charities in NSW to help pay utility bills (not that it’ll go far…), Victoria has a Utility Relief Grant Scheme and Qld and SA have assistance schemes administered by retailers.
Keep your eye out for details in the upcoming post useful websites: bills
If you have a problem with services like electricity or gas, contact your retailer first; if you need to take it further, contact the energy ombudsman in your state or territory – you can sometimes be compensated for things like wrongful disconnection, frequent power outages or if your appliances get damaged due to voltage variation.