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Research report
20 April 2020

Power bills during Covid-19: Your questions answered

We answer your questions about high bills and what to do if you’re struggling to pay.

With the Covid-19 lockdown, we’ve all been at home more and many of us are using more power than usual. This means your next power bill will probably be higher than normal for this time of year.

We answer your questions about bill payments and what you should expect from your power company if you’re having trouble keeping up with costs.

I got an estimated bill that looks really high. What should I do?

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

An estimated bill will usually only be sent if you have an older electricity meter (or a gas meter) that needs to be manually read. During the lockdown, meter readers aren’t visiting properties to take readings so your retailer will estimate usage instead.

If you have a smart meter, it should automatically send usage data to the power company so a meter reader doesn’t need to visit and your bill will show your actual usage.

I usually pay my bill at the post office but it’s closed. How can I pay it now?

Power companies provide other ways to pay. Phone or email your retailer and ask about your options. These will usually include paying by direct debit, or phone or internet banking.

If I’m a few days late paying this month, will I get charged extra?

Power companies provide an essential service and we think they have a responsibility to help customers at this time. That’s why we’ve asked companies to waive late-payment fees for people experiencing financial hardship.

If you’re charged a late-payment fee, contact the company and ask for it to be waived. If the company refuses, let us know.

Meridian Energy and Genesis Energy have stated they won't be charging late payment fees.

I’m having trouble paying my bill. What should I do?

Contact your power company to let it know about your situation. The company should discuss flexible payment options with you, check you’re on the best plan and let you know what support is available from budgeting agencies and Work and Income.

Power companies are expected to comply with their obligations under the vulnerable consumer guidelines. These guidelines were developed by the Electricity Authority and require retailers to work with customers facing financial difficulties and provide alternative payment options.

If you need budgeting advice, you can get free and confidential help from MoneyTalks (freephone 0800 345 123). MoneyTalks is run by FinCap (the National Building Financial Capability Charitable Trust) with support from the Ministry of Social Development.

Will I be disconnected if I can’t pay?

We’ve asked retailers not to disconnect customers at this time.

Under the vulnerable consumer guidelines, the expectation on power retailers is that disconnection should be a last resort that’s only considered after all other options have been exhausted.

If you think a retailer isn’t meeting these expectations and is treating you unfairly, contact Utilities Disputes.

Where someone in your household is dependent on power for critical medical support – for example, they rely on a respirator – your power shouldn’t be disconnected. Let your retailer know if anyone in your household requires power to provide medical support. Your retailer should also ask about this when you sign up.

How can I monitor my household’s electricity usage?

Many power companies have online tools that help you track your usage. Check your retailer’s website for what’s available. We also have tips for cutting your power bills.

It’s also worth checking you’re on the best plan for your power use. If your household uses less than 8000kWh a year (or 9000kWh in the lower South Island), you should be on a low-user plan. Your annual usage may be shown on your power bill. If it’s not, ask your retailer for this information.

I’ve heard about the Winter Energy Payment. Who gets this?

The Winter Energy Payment is an amount paid to superannuitants and people getting benefits from Work and Income to help with heating costs.

It’s paid from 1 May to 1 October. You don’t need to apply – it gets paid automatically to those who are eligible.

Single people with no dependent children get $40.91 a week.

Couples and people with dependent children get $63.64 a week.

Can I switch companies during the lockdown?

Yes. You can still switch companies during the lockdown. is our free energy-comparison website. You can use the site to identify whether you're on the cheapest power plan and switch to another provider if you're not.

I switched companies before the lockdown but haven't received a bill yet. If I get a big bill, do I have to 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.

Are gas companies still delivering bottled gas during the lockdown?

Yes. Gas and electricity are essential services so gas companies will continue to deliver bottled gas during the lockdown.

Where can I go if I have a complaint?

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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