A Keiraville resident said she feels the process of changing energy providers is "exploitative" after switching between two companies and being overcharged by $100 in the first two weeks.
Cate McFarlane said she thought she was doing the right thing by dipping into her super to purchase and install a nine-panel solar array for her Keiraville home.
Ms McFarlane hoped to be able to save money on her power bills while reducing the amount of electricity she pulls from the grid.
As the panels were being fixed to her roof, Ms McFarlane searched for which utility would give her the best bang for her buck, and decided to switch from her current supplier to a new one because of the better return she would receive for the electricity generated from her solar panels.
"We all know that the power is going up, so I just did the right thing," Ms McFarlane said.
The plan Ms McFarlane selected covered gas and electricity and, two weeks after switching, she received her first bill.
"The bill for the first two weeks was $244.30. Now if I paid that continuously every fortnight I'd be paying $800 more [a year] than what I would have been paying, [even with] nine solar panels."
Ms McFarlane then began the process of investigating the difference between what the plan advertised and the bill she received.
With rising energy prices, consumers are being advised to shop around for the best deal. However, often that is easier said than done with complex and sometimes opaque contracts from utilities and providers.
On Thursday, August 10, the ACCC sent out a warning to consumers that they could be paying more than needed for energy.
"We know that many Australians are likely paying more for electricity than they need to because their recently increased rates are higher than the safety net built into standing offer contracts," ACCC Commissioner Anna Brakey said.
The government sets a basic "standing offer" which is designed to act as a safety net. Energy providers can sell a "market offer" which has various conditions and can be cheaper than the standing offer. However, the ACCC has recently seen market offers 10 to 20 per cent above the standing offer.
"We are seeing evidence of a significant reversal in the role of the safety net price, which was designed as a maximum price to protect disengaged consumers but is becoming a cheaper option for many people," Ms Brakey said.
In Ms McFarlane's case, the plan she signed up for was a more expensive plan than what she had seen advertised, and after making complaints via the NSW Energy & Water Ombudsman and ACCC, was able to contact her new energy provider and be put on a reduced rate.
"If I hadn't kicked up a stink I'd be paying [an extra] $100 for that bill," she said.
The ACCC is advising customers to check with their current energy provider to see if a better deal is available.
"You don't necessarily need to change energy company to get a better deal: the simplest thing you can do is to contact your existing company and ask how your current plan compares to the regulated standing offer," Ms Brakey said.
"We know many Australians are currently struggling with high energy prices and broad cost of living increases, so it is worthwhile to set aside some time this week to call your energy company and ask if a cheaper plan is available."
Ms McFarlane said after her experience, the most frustrating thing was not being able to speak to a person, and said other consumers should contact the Ombudsman if they are not satisfied with their provider.
"If I wasn't very tech, I don't know how you would deal with it. It's really unfair, it's exploitative, it really is."
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