Electricity rights

We answer some common questions about electricity supply.

Electricity meter

Struck a problem with your power company? Here’s our advice to avoid being left out in the cold.

Bills

I’ve got an estimated power bill but it’s much higher than usual. Do I have to pay it?

If you get an estimated bill that’s a lot more than what you normally pay, your electricity retailer should let you provide your own reading and issue a new invoice based on that reading. You should only have to pay for power you’ve actually used.

If your estimated usage is always too high, ask your retailer why. There may be a bug in its system.

I switched companies a couple of months ago but haven't received a bill yet. If I get a big bill, will I have it pay it all at once?

Although you’re obliged to pay your bills, the power company has to ensure they’re sent within a reasonable time. If your invoice has been sent late, the retailer should give you a reasonable period to pay.

The Electricity Authority has developed model terms and conditions for domestic electricity contracts. These terms state if the bill is more than two months late, you should have at least the period of time it covers to pay it off.

If the bill’s more than three months late, the company should negotiate a discount with you as well as give you a reasonable time to pay.

My power company says it’s been undercharging me for five years and has billed me $3000 in back payments. What are my rights?

Back bills – invoices for past electricity use that wasn't correctly charged at the time – are a legitimate cause for complaint.

Power companies may invoice consumers for past underpayments but the Electricity Authority’s model terms state they should do so “only to the extent reasonable”.

This means an electricity retailer can’t make you foot the entire bill for an error it should have discovered much sooner. The company should take into account whether it contributed to the error, or could reasonably have been expected to know about it.

If it caused the problem, we think it should wear the whole bill.

Switching

A sales rep from a power company knocked on my door, offering what looked like a good deal. I signed up but I’ve changed my mind. What can I do?

Door-to-door sales are covered by the Fair Trading Act. If you sign up, you’ve got a cooling-off period of five working days to cancel. The sales rep needs to tell you this and information about your cancellation rights must be included in the sale agreement.

If you’re not given this information, you can cancel the deal regardless of whether the cooling-off period is finished. If the sales rep provided incorrect information about the deal, such as misleading you about how much you’d save by switching, you’d also have grounds to cancel the deal.

These rules also apply if a sales rep signs you up over the phone.

I was on a two-year electricity contract and was planning on switching when it ended. But the company put me on another two-year term and didn’t tell me. It says I have to pay a cancellation fee if I want out. Is this fair?

No. If the company didn’t have your consent to roll over the contract, it shouldn’t charge a cancellation fee.

Companies that automatically roll over a fixed-term contract, and then try to lump you with a fee to end the deal, risk breaching the Fair Trading Act. The act bans unfair contract terms. Any term in an electricity contract that allowed the company to charge a fee in this situation is likely to be given short shrift by the courts.

Meters

My meter is playing up, and the power company says I have to pay to have it repaired. Is that right?

The party that owns the meter is responsible for maintaining and repairing it. However, ownership isn’t always straightforward. There are four possibilities:

  • you may have bought your own meter
  • the meters were sold by the lines company to your electricity retailer (if you switch retailers, your original supplier may continue to own the meter, or it may sell it to your new supplier)
  • the meter is owned by the lines company
  • the meter is owned by a meter company.

If you’re unsure who owns your meter, ask your electricity retailer.

If you think the meter isn’t accurately measuring your electricity consumption, complain to your retailer. It doesn’t want to know? Take the matter to Utilities Disputes (see “Where can I complain about problems?”).

I’m moving house and want to make sure I only pay for power at my new property from the date I move in. Will my power company accept a meter reading I provide?

Your retailer shouldn’t have any problem accepting your reading.

Read the meters at your new and old properties on the day you move and provide the readings to your retailer.

Keep a record of the readings and compare them with what’s shown on your bill to make sure you’ve been charged correctly. It can be handy to take photos of the meter readings so you’ve got evidence of your usage.

If you’re unsure how to read your meter, check your electricity retailer’s website for information.

Power surges

A power surge damaged several of my appliances, including a freezer full of food. Some of my neighbours are in the same boat. Do I have any comeback?

The Consumer Guarantees Act requires electricity supplied to domestic consumers to be of acceptable quality. In practice, this means the power supply to your property should be reasonably reliable and safe. When it’s not, your electricity retailer is responsible for providing a remedy.

Where a fault on the network causes a power surge, and your appliances are damaged as a result, you have good grounds to claim compensation from the retailer. Costs aren’t limited to repairing or replacing damaged appliances; you can also claim to replace the spoilt food in your freezer.

Your electricity retailer can’t tell you to sort it out with the lines company. The act is clear that the retailer is responsible for providing a remedy. Even when the lines company caused the problem, the retailer’s responsible for compensating you. It can claim back costs from the lines company where the latter is at fault.

Lines and poles

The lines company says I have to pay to clear the trees around the power lines. Is that right?

The lines company owns the lines along the street (whether strung on poles or underground). At your property, there is a point of connection where your cable joins the lines company's cables, usually at the boundary of your property. You own the cable from the point of connection to the meter box, and are responsible for keeping this line properly maintained and safe.

If a tree on your property is encroaching on power lines, don't tackle it yourself. Contact the lines company: it will check the tree and issue a "cut and trim" notice if necessary.

The lines company will pay for the first cut and trim. After that, you have to pay. The company's priority is removing trees or branches that present hazards, so if you want a trim that’s sympathetic to a particular species, you may have to make special arrangements.

If the lines company doesn't own the power lines – if, for example, they're on farmland or a private accessway – then it's the landowner's responsibility to ensure trees are kept clear of the lines.

Work on trees near power lines should always be carried out by a properly equipped and qualified arborist.

If your line develops a fault or is damaged, you can ask the lines company to fix it but it may charge you. You don't have to use the lines company: you can get an electrical contractor to do the job.

Your lines may be covered by your house insurance. Check your policy.

Complaints

Where can I complain about problems?

If you’ve got a problem with your power company and can’t resolve it, take your case to Utilities Disputes.

Utilities Disputes is a free service that deals with disputes between consumers and their electricity and gas providers. All retailers and distributors must belong to the service and are bound by its decisions.

Utilities Disputes can consider compensation claims up to $50,000 or up to $100,000 if the retailer or distributor agrees.

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Member comments

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Brian W.
13 Apr 2019
Nova Energy replacing my meter

Hi all I have had an email from our supplier Nova Energy stating that they intend to replace my existing meter with a smart meter. I have no objection to this but where does it leave me if I choose to change suppliers in the future?

Consumer staff
15 Apr 2019
Re: Nova Energy replacing my meter

Hi Brian,

Having a smart meter doesn't affect your right to switch energy providers whenever you want. So if you've had a smart meter installed but you want to move to a new supplier, you will still be able to do so.

There’s no law requiring you to have a smart meter. However, most retail power contracts say the provider can replace the meter at its discretion, and it is likely that most, if not all, traditional meters will be replaced by a smart meter eventually. You may find our article on smart meters useful: https://www.consumer.org.nz/articles/smart-meters

Kind regards,

Natalie - Consumer NZ staff

Moana H.
11 May 2018
Power usage on shared meter

As the above title says. I share a power meter with 2 automotive workshops. I was told by my property manager that I was on industrial rates.." Loads cheaper" she said. I pay $50 per week, which is added to my rent. Over 12 month period it amounts to $2400.00. The consumers in my apartment are myself and my High School aged son. We have a heat pump which was used sparingly during the Winter and Summer months. I've been charged and extra $250 as my daughter her partner and their 4 year old moved in back in November. The landlord increased the power by $2.00 per week to cover them. A total of $300.00 per month for power. Im on a shared meter how do they know I used the extra power? Ive never been given a power bill. What are my rights in this case? Please help

Vaevae T.
18 Jan 2017
Power poles on private section

who can I talk to in regards to power poles in my private section?

Previous member
18 Jan 2017
Re: Power poles on private section

Hi Vaevae,

We’d suggest calling your lines company. You can find out which one services your area here: http://ena.org.nz/find-my-line/. You could also try contacting your local council.

Cheers,
Fonda – Consumer NZ staff

Robert R.
10 Oct 2016
Trustpower New House Construction Power Supply Marketing

The builder of our new house has an arrangement with Trustpower to provide electric power during construction. Trustpower are pushing on line and phone plans for us to assume responsibility for these costs all based on signing a long term agreement with them . We understand the requirement to have construction power costs assigned to us but Trustpower will not be our supplier once construction is complete. So far Trustpower has not been able or willing to present an agreement for this term and in fact their information does not agree with advice from the builder. Has this aggressive and questionable practice by Trustpower been resolved previously? Comments appreciated.
Thanks Bob Rejall

Previous member
21 Oct 2016
re: Trustpower New House Construction Power Supply Marketing

Hi Bob,

I understand one of our advisers has been in touch about this issue. If you'd like more advice, feel free to give us a bell on 0800 266 786 between 9:30 - 4:00, Monday to Friday. Your membership includes this.

Regards,
Fonda - Consumer NZ staff