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Energy bills can hit low income families doubly hard as other people, since you may lack not only the funds to deal with it but also the time and energy. The good news is that some relief does exist, in the form of rebates and concession schemes from various state governments.
Beyond that, we'll also walk you through some important considerations when picking an energy plan and low-effort tips to drive down your energy costs.
What to consider when it comes to an energy plan
When you're comparing plans, here are a few things to pay extra attention to:
- Low usage rates. If you have a family, you're probably using more power every quarter than a single adult living alone would. Aiming for a plan with low usage rates will mean that you're not paying too dearly for a higher electricity usage.
- Benefit periods. Discounts and deals have a limited lifespan, known as the benefit period. Plans that are a great deal during the benefit period can quickly become very poor value once the period has expired.
- Financial hardship programs. All retailers are required to have financial hardship programs in place for customers who may not be able to afford their bills or need extra time to settle a debt. Some providers have more comprehensive programs than others – check out how to take advantage of these in our "Bill problems" section.
- Disconnection/reconnection fees. If you're very behind on paying a bill, your retailer may end up disconnecting your power, then charge you an additional fee to reconnect it. You can always approach your retailer about a payment plan as an alternative to disconnection, but check that the reconnection fee is low just in case.
- Pay on time discounts. This may sound like a great idea, but understand that if you don't pay on time, then you are essentially paying a penalty.
If you can, you might also do well by switching your plan semi-regularly and taking advantage of introductory offers or guaranteed discounts that last for a year or so. These will help you most if you keep on top of them and switch plans when benefit periods expire.
Rebates for low income families
An energy rebate is a percentage or flat value refund on your energy bill. Rebates come with various eligibility requirements. Exactly which rebates are available will depend on where you live.
For example, to qualify for Victoria's Utility Relief Grant Scheme, you'll need:
- A Pensioner Concession Card, Health Care Card, Veterans' Affairs Gold Card or be able to show you're part of a low income household.
- Proof that you have no way of paying your utility bill without assistance.
- To meet one of these conditions:
- Someone in the household has experienced family violence.
- You have had a recent decrease in income.
- You have had high unexpected costs for essential items.
- The cost of shelter is more than 30% of your household income.
If you qualify, you'll receive the amount you owe when you apply, up to a maximum of $650 for each utility type in a two-year period.
To see what energy rebates or savings you might apply for, see what concessions are available in your state.
Which providers have special plans designed for low income families?
While there are no special plans designed for low income families, many providers have financial hardship programs available in case you encounter financial difficulties.
Ways to save
While lower rates definitely help, one of the best ways to reduce your bill is by lowering how much energy you use in total. This doesn't require a radical shift in your habits, but a number of small improvements can really add up:
Heating and insulation
- In winter, set your heater between 18 and 20 degrees. In summer, coolers should be set no lower than 25 to 27 degrees. Each additional degree beyond this can increase energy consumption by 10%.
- A lot of energy escapes through small gaps. Try sealing gaps in doors and windows or applying a weather seal (check with your landlord if renting). Use draught stoppers under doors to prevent air leaks or fit curtains to your windows to trap heat more efficiently in winter.
- Trying to heat the whole house is extremely expensive. Close the door to rooms you aren't currently using, open windows in summer and let the breeze carry out the hot air. Opening the curtains during the day in winter lets sunlight heat the house before closing them at night.
- Showers are a huge expense. Not only do you have to pay for the water you use, but the electricity or gas used to heat it. Although it's easy to linger in a hot shower, even running a heater to warm yourself up will be far less expensive than five more minutes in the shower.
- Picking up a water-efficient showerhead can drastically reduce your hot water usage and your bill.
- Your appliances have energy efficiency ratings. Favouring ones with a higher number of stars can lower your power costs in the long run, since they consume less energy while operating.
- Turning appliances off at the wall instead of leaving them in standby makes an appreciable difference.
- Lowering the temperature on your dishwasher and washing machine cycles saves a lot on hot water. More water-efficient models save you water and heat too.
- Replace old appliances with newer, more efficient ones, if possible. The larger initial cost can lower your costs over time, but you'll have to hold onto the appliance for a while to make it worthwhile.
If you're struggling to pay your bill, there are measures in place to help you:
- Retailers are required to have financial hardship programs in place. These may let you settle bill debt in smaller instalments over time, rather than penalising you for not paying all at once.
- Seek advice from a financial counsellor. Your retailer should be able to refer you to a free financial counselling service provided by the government.
- If you've received an urgent disconnection notice, don't panic. You can contact your retailer, which is required to offer you other ways of settling your debt rather than cutting off your power immediately for non-payment.
If you aren't happy with an energy bill you've received, your retailer will review it for you. After review, if you're still not happy, you can escalate the matter to the energy ombudsman in your area, which may pursue it further. Find your relevant ombudsman in the resource list below.
Resources and assistance
The National Relay Service (NRS) provides a phone solution for people who are deaf or have a speech impairment. Call 1800 555 660 or go to Accesshub for more information.
NSW Energy & Water Ombudsman NSW – call 1800 246 545
NT Ombudsman NT – call 1800 806 380
Qld Energy & Water Ombudsman – call 1800 662 837
SA Energy & Water Ombudsman SA – call 1800 665 565
Tas Ombudsman Tasmania – call 1800 001 170
Tas Energy Ombudsman Tasmania – call 1800 001 170
Vic Energy and Water Ombudsman – call 1800 500 509
WA Energy and Water Ombudsman – call 1800 754 004
Real estate ACCC – call 1300 302 502
ACT Fair Trading ACT Government – call 13 22 81
NSW Fair Trading NSW Government – call 13 32 20
NT Consumer Affairs – call 1800 019 319
Qld Consumer rights, complaints and scams Queensland Government – call 13 74 68
SA Consumer and Business Services Government of South Australia – call 13 18 82
Tas Consumer, Building and Occupational Services Tasmanian Government – call 1300 654 499
Vic Consumer Affairs Government of Victoria – call 1300 558 181 or Koori Helpline 1300 661 511
WA Consumer Protection Government of Western Australia – call 1300 304 054
NSW Renting a home NSW Government – call 13 32 20
NT Residential Tenancies Northern Territory Consumer Affairs – call 1800 019 319
Qld Renting Residential Tenancies Authority – call 1300 366 311
SA Renting Government of South Australia – call 13 18 82
Tas Renting Tasmanian Government – call 1300 654 499
Vic Renting Government of Victoria – call 1300 558 181 or Koori Helpline 1300 661 511
WA Renting a home Government of Western Australia – call 1300 304 054
ACT Renting Advice Tenants' Union ACT Inc – call 02 6247 2011
NSW Information, Advice and Advocacy Tenants NSW
NT Tenants' Advice Service Darwin Community Legal Service – call 1800 812 953
Qld Information for tenants Tenants Queensland – call 1300 744 263
SA Homelessness and Tenancy Support Services Anglicare SA – call 08 8305 9200
Tas Tenants' Union of Tasmania – call 1300 652 641
Vic Tenants Victoria – call 03 9416 2577
WA Tenancy WA – call 08 9221 0088 (metro) or 1800 621 888 (regional)
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