Seniors

About this guide

Lifestyle and energy-use patterns change as you move into retirement. Managing energy bills can be challenging, particularly if you’re on a fixed income such as a pension.

This guide explains how to reduce bills by changing your energy use and by choosing the most suitable contract. It includes ways to manage payments and what to do if you’re having difficulties or are faced with disconnection.

There are resources for homeowners, renters and landlords.

Making some of these changes can save money, energy and water as well as making your home more comfortable.

Ways to save

The following free and low cost ideas are a good way to reduce energy use. See rebates to check if assistance is available as landlords, renters and homeowners may be eligible for assistance when replacing an appliance. Assistance also includes free advisory services for purchasing and using energy-efficient appliances.

Heating and cooling

Up to 50% of home energy can be used by cooling and/or heating, depending on the climate zone.

Control your climate

In winter, set your heating between 18°C and 20°C. In summer, set your cooling between 25°C and 27°C. For every degree you increase heating and cooling you increase energy use between 5% and 10%.

Close off rooms not in use

Shut doors and vents to unused areas and only heat or cool the rooms you’re using.

Draught-proof

Sealing gaps and cracks to stop air leaking is a cheap way to cut your energy bill by up to 25%. Use a draught stopper to prevent air leaking under doors. Apply weather seals to windows, skirting boards, skylights and cornices. If renting, check with your landlord or property manager before fitting any weather seals.

Improve window efficiency

Prevent heat loss or gain with well-fitted curtains and blinds to trap a layer of air next to the window. Open curtains in winter to let the sun in during the day and close them before it gets dark. Close curtains during the hottest part of the day in summer.

Consider transparent film to insulate windows

It reduces heat gain and loss. If renting check with your landlord or property manager.

Catch the breeze

In summer make the most of natural airflow in the cooler parts of the day by opening windows to bring in the breeze and let the hot air out.

Use fans before air conditioning

Fans cost around 2 cents per hour to run, much less than air conditioners, and reduce the temperature by 2°C or 3°C. Fans circulate air and can be used to improve the effectiveness of cooling systems.

Use fans to circulate hot air

Using ceiling fans to push the air downwards in winter improves heating efficiency. Where this option exists, the fan or remote control should clearly indicate the winter setting to reverse airflow.

Hot water

Heating water accounts for around 15%–27% of household energy use.

Get the temperature right

The recommended setting for thermostats is 60°C for storage hot water systems and no more than 50°C on instantaneous systems.

Give your hot water a holiday

If away for more than a week, turning off your storage hot water system saves money and energy. When turning it back on, allow time for the water to become hot enough to kill any bacteria that may have grown. The water must remain above 60°C for at least 35 minutes before you can safely use it. It could take several hours to reach this temperature.

Don’t use the shower to warm up

Staying in the shower uses up to 20 times as much energy as getting out and standing under two heat lamps.

Install a water-efficient showerhead

Installing a water-efficient 4-star showerhead can save a family of 4 $315 a year on water bills, there will also be savings on energy bills because less water will need to be heated.

Replacing a hot water system

If your system fails, replacing it with a suitable energy-efficient model can reduce energy use. Research the options in advance to avoid making a rushed decision.

Appliances

Appliances account for up to 30% of household energy use.

Compare and estimate running costs

Use the Energy Rating website or the Energy Rating apps for your phone, to compare running costs of appliances. A higher star-rated model may cost a little more upfront, but will reduce energy use and total costs.

Buy energy-efficient appliances

An energy-efficient model will have reduced running costs. The savings can add up to more than any purchase price difference over the life of the product. The Energy Rating Label shows you how efficient a particular appliance is—the more stars the better. A water-efficient dishwasher or washing machine will save energy as well as water. Look at both the energy and water efficiency star rating labels on the machine.

Use appliances efficiently

Washing clothes with cold water can save up to 10 times more energy than a warm wash. By making simple changes you can reduce costs.

Reduce standby power

Many appliances use power when left on, even if not in use. This can account for 3% of household electricity consumption, so most can be switched off at the power point.
Note: Do not switch off fridges, freezers, security and medical equipment.

Lighting

Lighting uses around 10% of the average household electricity budget.

Use natural light

If it’s light outside, open the curtains or blinds rather than switching on a light. Lighter coloured furnishings and reflective surfaces also reduce the need for artificial lighting.

Use lights efficiently

Use efficient reading lamps rather than lighting a whole room. Switch lights off when you leave the room and consider sensors for outdoor lights.

Switch to energy-efficient lighting

Replace old-style globes with LEDs (light emitting diodes) which use around 80% less energy. They should also last between 4 and 10 times longer.

Manage energy bills

Dealing with high energy bills can be stressful. There are options to better manage energy payments and ensure you’re getting the best deal for your circumstances. 

Refer to Resources and assistance at the end of this guide for organisations that may be able to help with energy billing and more.

Offers and contracts

Depending on where you live, you may have a choice of which energy retailer to use. Even if you only have one retailer in your area, there are many energy offers available. Choosing the most suitable offer can be difficult, so understanding how and when you use energy is useful.

Contracts that reward off-peak energy use may result in savings if you can move activities such as washing and cooking to these periods. However, this may increase your costs if you need to run heating and cooling systems at peak times. If you choose a contract that doesn’t suit your household or lifestyle you could end up paying more.

Before agreeing to a contract, read the terms and conditions. Asking a friend or family member to review the details can be helpful.

There are laws in place for customer protection on energy matters. The retailer must provide a printed summary of any contract. The energy price fact sheet must include the following:

  • all prices and charges
  • early termination payments and penalties
  • date and duration of the contract
  • billing and payment information
  • your rights and obligations

After agreeing, you can change your mind within 10 business days without penalty.

Bill problems

If your energy bill seems wrong, your retailer must review it if requested. If you're still not satisfied, contact the energy ombudsman in your state or territory. An ombudsman is a free and independent dispute resolution service.

To ease financial stress you can have smaller amounts regularly deducted by your retailer rather than receive a large quarterly bill. If receiving a Centrelink payment, the Centrepay service is available to make regular payments towards your energy bills.

If unable to pay your bill on time, contact your retailer to discuss options on how they can help. Their hardship policy outlines the options available. You may be able to delay payments or pay your bill off in smaller amounts.

If you receive a disconnection notice from your retailer, contact them immediately to discuss your options. You should not be disconnected during a protected period, such as a weekend or public holiday. People registered as depending on a life-support system have further protections from disconnection.

Renters

Sustainability improvements will increase comfort and reduce energy use. They can also benefit the owner by increasing the property’s value and reducing maintenance needs. Check with your landlord or manager before making any significant changes. Put any requests in writing and keep a record.

Rebates and assistance

Renters and owners may be eligible for rebates and assistance with sustainability improvements. 

Tax deductions

Repairs and maintenance may be tax deductible for the owner. They can check the Australian Tax Office’s Rental properties guidance.

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 the NRS website for more information.

Energy and water ombudsmen

ACT Energy and water. ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal. Call 02 6207 7740

NSW Energy and Water Ombudsman. Call 1800 246 545

NT Ombudsman. Call 1800 806 380

Qld Energy and Water Ombudsman. Call 1800 662 837

SA Energy and Water Ombudsman. Call 1800 665 565

Tas Energy Ombudsman. Call 1800 001 170

Vic Energy and Water Ombudsman. Call 1800 500 509

WA Energy and Water Ombudsman. Call 1800 754 004

Government consumer and fair trading agencies

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 State Government of Victoria. Call 1300 558 181 or Koori Helpline 1300 661 511

WA Consumer Protection Government of Western Australia. Call 1300 304 054

Information for renters and landlords

ACT Renting ACT Government. Call 13 22 81

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

Tenants’ unions and advocacy groups

ACT Renting Advice Tenants’ Union ACT Inc. Call 02 6247 2011

NSW Information, Advice and Advocacy Tenants NSW

NSW Older Persons Tenants’ Service Combined Pensioners & Superannuants Association. Call 1800 451 488

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)

Other resources

Aged Care Complaints Commissioner Australian Government. Call 1800 550 552

Be Connected Australian Government. Free courses on the internet. Call 1300 795 897

Better Health Channel State Government of Victoria. Call 1300 606 024

EnergyMadeEasy Australian Government. Call 1300 585 165

Home Care Packages Australian Government. Call 1800 836 799

Life stages Australian Government. Call 1800 022 222

Money Smart Australian Securities and Investment Commission. Call 1300 300 630

My Aged Care Australian Government. Call 1800 200 422

National Seniors Australia Call 1300 765 050

No Interest Loan Scheme (NILS) Good Shepherd Microfinance. Call 13 64 57

Over 55s Australian Securities & Investment Commission. Call 1300 300 630­