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How to keep paying the bills during COVID-19

Carly McKenna

Policy & Deal Hunter Expert

Bills, Bills, Bills

If you’re like me, you were probably singing along to that Destiny’s Child song long before you had to worry about bills flooding in.

Assuming you’re now experiencing that delightful flood, it’s painful to see how much money goes out the door to keep the lights on, stovetop cooking, phone ringing and Zoom connected. No doubt this is even more painful now that our economic outlook is simply: COVID-19 soz.

This means it’s even more important to make sure you’re getting the best deals on your bills and utilities. Not all providers were created equal though, and choosing the right ones can help you keep on top of it all with cash to spare.

In this topic, we’ll show you how to get the best deals on the essentials, including:

  • Energy
  • Internet  
  • Phone

Ready? Let’s go.

What You Need

Most people don’t think about utility providers until they’ve moved into their new place (and realised that they have no electricity). Rather than shopping around for the best option, they end up going with the provider that their parents were with. Rookie mistake.

Personally, energy was the big oversight for me – and it wasn’t just because of the money I could’ve saved. I’d always considered myself to be a conscious consumer, but when it came to choosing an energy provider, my housemates and I just went with one of the ‘Big Three’. It never occurred to me that I could find a ‘green’ energy provider while I was still renting. Whatever your stance on fossil fuels, we can both agree that I spent too many years with a provider that wasn’t right for me! 

Figuring out what you need and what you value is the first step towards finding the perfect provider. We’ve done the hard yards for you and found the best deals for your essential services, which we’ve broken down into two categories:

In addition to this, we’ve summarised the key pieces of COVID-19 relief being offered by providers during this challenging time. 

COVID-19 Relief

Before we dive into our specific recommendations, let’s take a quick look at what’s being offered by the Government and providers to support you.

Electricity & Gas

The support being offered to you depends on the state you live in - we’ve broken these down below. For more information and some useful tips on managing your bills throughout COVID-19, check out the Government’s advice here.

NSW, Victoria and South Australia

If you’re living in any of these states, you won’t be disconnected from the grid without consent until at least July 31. The type of support you can access depends on what type of provider you’re with - mainly are they a large or small energy provider? 

Large energy providers include AGL Energy, EnergyAustralia, ERM Power, Lumo Energy, Momentum Energy, Origin Energy, Red Energy, Simply Energy, Stanwell Corporation and all of their affiliates.

If you’re with one of the large providers, you can defer your network charges from April 1 to June 30 if you move onto hardship provisions or a payment plan.

If you’re using a small provider, you’ll have your network charges from April 1 to June 30 rebated if you default on your payments.

Keep in mind for both scenarios, this is only given to people who were customers of their provider before April 1 and have also received a relevant government benefit by that date. If you were already on hardship provisions, a payment plan or in default or arrears before March 1 you’ll also  not qualify for support.

Western Australia & Queensland

WA has announced a stimulus package that freezes all household fees and charges (including electricity, water and vehicle registration) for West Australians - not a bad deal! The government has also doubled The Energy Assistance Payment (a rebate offered to concession card holders) to $600.

Meanwhile, the Queensland government has introduced a stimulus package for households struggling to pay their electricity and water bills. This will provide a credit of up to $200 for utility bills. 

If you’re keen to see what your specific provider is offering for COVID-19, check out Finder’s neat summary here.

Internet & Phone

Currently, four providers have introduced extra help if you’ve specifically been affected by COVID-19. This is in addition to their regular financial hardship programs.

  • Telstra: Telstra has stopped late fees and disconnections for customers who aren’t able to pay their bills. This is due to occur until the end of April, however Telstra have stated they will review their policies as the crisis continues.
     
  • Optus: From March 27, Optus has waived late payment fees and suspended disconnection and credit collection activities until April 30. They’re also letting customers put postpaid mobile plans on hold. Optus will also be providing more support for customers who are eligible for the Government coronavirus financial support. Check out Finder’s latest updates for this here.
     
  • Vodafone: Vodafone have said that customers who have been financially affected either directly or indirectly from COVID-19 shouldn’t hesitate to contact them to apply for Vodafone’s financial hardship program online or over the phone.
     
  • Aussie Broadband: Aussie Broadband has announced a temporary halt on suspending plans due to non-payment. It will continue running its regular financial hardship policy and encourage customers to get in contact if they’re struggling. Support can include tailored payment plans and individual services for customers experiencing financial difficulties.

These support packages will continue to change so make sure to keep an eye out for the latest updates. Combined with the right provider and plans, hopefully this can help us all get through this crazy time without drowning in bills!

All of the Lights

Unless you have plans to go off the grid (literally), you’re going to need electricity. In some cases you may also need gas, so make sure you double check your connection. 

Price is Right 

Electricity prices will usually be displayed against a consistent ‘reference price’, which is a government benchmark that makes it easier for you to compare different plans. Having a reference price levels the playing field and means that you can be confident that the providers promoting the biggest savings are actually the cheapest.

However, keep in mind that prices tend to vary across states (and not all providers will be available in your state). Most electricity providers also offer variable rates, meaning they can change their rates whenever they like!

New kid on the block ReAmped Energy currently offers the best electricity price in NSW and QLD with its ReAmped Handshake plan, and Origin offers the cheapest variable rate plan of the Big Three. When it comes to fixed rates, AGL guarantees the best rate for two years with its Essentials Plus plan.

  • Pro tip #1: Providers change their rates regularly and are always advertising incentives (like sign-up discounts, rebates and credits). If you’re on a variable rate plan, compare your rate with other providers online and don’t be afraid to switch. Just watch out for disconnection fees!
     
  • Pro tip #2: Weigh up how much energy you use and when you use it. Some retailers offer ‘time of use’ plans that charge different rates at different times (early morning and late night usage is usually cheaper, while peak time usage is usually more expensive). 

If you’re looking for lower prices and want to skip the traditional providers altogether, don’t forget to keep an eye out for energy innovator Amber Electric. For just $10 a month, Amber will give you access to wholesale electricity prices in real time (without the retail mark-up). You can also view current and forecasted prices for the next 12 hours, which means you can shift your usage and save. Now that’s value!

More than Money

Although electricity is a necessity, it doesn’t need to be a necessary evil. The past few years have seen a rise in ‘green’ energy providers in Australia, proving that green is the new black.    

The 2018 Green Electricity Guide provided a state-by-state ranking of electricity retailers, based on factors like carbon emissions, carbon offset products and support for renewable energy. The rankings put Powershop and Diamond Energy on top, making them Australia’s greenest electricity providers for the third time running.

Powershop is entirely online and can be managed through the app, which is great if you’re tech savvy. You can also purchase as little or as much power as you like through their ‘Powerpacks’ (remember the pre-paid credit you used to buy for your first mobile? It’s a bit like that) - and you can save up to 15% when you purchase in advance. However, they don’t supply nation-wide, so if you’re in ACT or South Australia, Diamond is your go-to green electricity option.

It’s also worth mentioning that Australia’s second largest retailer AGL came in at fifth place (and most improved) in the 2018 Green Energy Guide. Although AGL is the largest fossil fuel generator in Australia, it is also the largest ASX-listed owner of renewable energy in Australia and offers carbon offsets. If your stovetop requires a gas connection, make AGL your go-to for gas (as the greener companies don’t offer gas yet).

Because the Internet

The “best” internet deal really depends on how fast you want your internet and how much you’re willing to pay – but with the NBN being rolled out across Australia, high speed internet is easier to access and cheaper than ever before.

Price is Right

Superloop is relatively new on the NBN market, but owns a lot of the infrastructure that other telcos usually rent, which means it can pass on faster speeds to customers like us. And when it comes to fast internet, they beat out all of the rest.

If you can’t connect to a fixed line internet service, home wireless from exetel is your best budget bet. Wireless connects you using the same networks as your smartphone, so if you get mobile reception at home, you should be able to get wireless.

More than Money

  • Pro tip: Where you live will determine the type of technology used to connect you to the NBN network, which will also determine what your internet speeds will be. Find out more about NBN availability and providers in your area here.

Call Me Maybe

The “best” mobile phone deal depends on what you’re after. Most telcos offer unlimited talk and text as standard, but have ‘small’, ‘medium’ and ‘large’ plans based on the amount of data you want. We’ve used ‘medium’ data needs as our baseline (at least 20GB per month) – but if you don’t need that much data on your phone, you can save even more!

Price is Right

As far as the budget plans go, Circles.Life offers the best value with its $28 Plan (and you’re not locked in).If you don’t mind going pre-paid again, amaysim offers similar value with great international rates too.

And if you’re happy to just set it and forget for a couple of years, Woolworths’ $30 Unlimited Plan is about as cheap as you’ll get.

More than Money

If you’re looking for the best coverage and don’t mind paying a little more, you can’t go past Telstra for reliability.

Telstra and Vodafone have also started offering ‘endless data’ plans, meaning you can stay connected and not get charged for excess data once you hit your limit.

As for a great all-rounder, Optus’ SIM-only plans give you unlimited talk and text (both here and overseas), plus lots of perks with no lock-in contract.

  • Pro tip #1: If you’ve already got an internet plan with one of the big telcos, ask them if they can bundle your services. Combining your internet and mobile phone bills can save you big time!
     
  • Pro tip #2: If you’re not on an ‘endless data’ plan, make sure you set up notifications so that you don’t exceed your data limit. Excess usage charges for a couple of extra GB can end up costing more than your actual plan (trust me).

That’s A Wrap!

Like we said, not all service providers (and COVID-19 support packages) are created equal (don’t say we didn’t warn you). But if you know what you need and take our tips on board, you hopefully won’t have to worry about ‘Bills, Bills, Bills’ too much during this crazy time (at least not until you hear Destiny’s Child again).

Stay tuned for upcoming topics or check out or other useful articles here. We’ve got plenty more gold to help you make the leap from top student to top professional!

Got feedback? We’d love to hear from you! Shoot us an email at contact@prosple.com

 

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Disclaimer: The information provided in this topic is general in nature only and does not constitute personal advice. The information has been prepared without taking into account your personal objectives, financial situation or needs.