As the COVID-19 crisis continues to evolve, offices and businesses are shutting down across the country.
Thousands of Aussies are now working remotely to limit the spread of infection and minimise human-to-human contact.
Although working from home can help you to save on things like petrol and public transport, it also means you’re likely to consume more energy than you otherwise would. Most of us will leave lights on for longer, run heating or cooling throughout the day and have a home office set up with one or more computers.
This extra energy usage will likely bump up your bill at the end of the quarter. Finder research shows that one in four Aussies (26 per cent) find paying for their energy bill extremely stressful, so it makes sense to start reducing your usage where possible.
Here are some quick tips to cut back on energy usage:
Conduct an energy audit. Identify your “power-hungry” appliances. This might be an old outdoor fridge, a washing machine or a large TV. Check the energy ratings of these appliances, and take note of how many hours per day they’re in use. It’s also worth unplugging any appliances that you’re not using – this includes things like your kettle or microwave.
Choose energy efficient appliances. This is not the ideal time to go to the store to buy them, but appliances account for roughly 30% of your energy bill. With this in mind, opt for products with an energy star rating of three of more to maximise efficiency.
Use natural light. Open the blinds and curtains rather than switching the lights on. Check the type of light bulbs you’re using too – LED or fibre-optic bulbs consume up to 75% less energy than incandescent ones and last up to 10 times longer.
Limit your heating and cooling. Air conditioners and heaters are big energy sinks. Ensure your airflow systems are properly installed, well-maintained and efficient. Try to avoid switching them on if possible.
Consider your usage times. Do you use the most electricity in the day or at night? Those using the majority of their power during the morning or early afternoon might benefit from a time of use tariff. This means you’ll be charged less money during these off-peak periods.
Switch providers. Your choice of energy provider and the contract you sign can make a big difference to how much you pay. Make sure you compare across retailers in your area for the best deal. Sign a contract with a variable rate that suits your lifestyle and power-usage patterns.
What if I lose my job and can’t afford my energy bill?
Unfortunately, not all jobs are secure during these uncertain times. Thousands of Aussies may find themselves out of work over the coming weeks, and this can lead to financial difficulty.
Most energy providers are now offering financial hardship programs to assist customers
whose income has been affected by the outbreak. Below are some of the key hardship programs across three of Australia's biggest energy providers:
The energy retailer has a range of options available for customers who may be struggling to pay their bills. This includes payment extensions, tailored payment plans, Centrepay (the automatic redirect of Centrelink payments to cover energy bills) and financial counselling referrals. You can contact AGL on 1300 659 925 to discuss your options.
Origin has ramped up its hardship efforts in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Energy disconnections are temporarily suspended for customers who haven’t paid their bills, while vulnerable customers (such as those on life support) are being prioritised.
Origin’s general hardship program also offers tailored payment plans (for a period of up to 2 years) and payment extensions. You can contact Origin on 13 24 61.
Payment extensions are available for those experiencing financial difficulty. You can also apply for a 12-month payment plan, with the option to pay weekly, fortnightly or monthly.
In addition to financial assistance offered by your energy provider, you may also be eligible for government help (depending on the state you live in). Your provider should be able to list any rebates or assistance packages you may be eligible for. Alternatively, you can visit a government website for more information.
Utility bills can be stressful at the best of times, let alone during a crisis. But you don’t have to deal with financial hardship on your own – help is out there.
If your income has taken a hit, get on to your provider as soon as possible to organise a payment solution. Aussies working from home should focus on reducing their energy usage where possible to minimise the risk of bill shock.
Bessie Hassan is a money expert at Finder.
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