Plain language rules make energy bills clearer

Plain language rules make electricity bills clearer

With the high cost of living, we’re all taking a closer look at our bills. But the Australian Energy Regulator’s guidelines mean that you won’t need to get out your magnifying glass to find the information that’s most important in your energy bills.

Sections 12 to 20 of the Better Bills Guideline explain that energy retailers must use plain language in their bills so that people and businesses can better understand their energy use and costs, and find the best energy deal available to them.

This article:

  • explains why plain language is the best way to communicate with energy customers
  • summarises what plain language energy bills look like under the AER’s guidelines
  • shows where you can go to learn to use plain language.
A pen, a lightbulb and some coins sit on top of the bill.

Why use plain language for an energy bill?

Quite aside from it being legally required, plain language benefits both consumers and retailers. Consumers can see what they need to pay and why, and retailers get fewer queries and complaints.

Plain language bills save time for everyone

A lot of the writing we come across in our personal and professional lives is complex, hard to read, and filled with unnecessary information. But it doesn’t have to be this way. When companies use plain language, clear structure and effective design, they save their readers and themselves a lot of time. 

Because plain language is so much easier to read, it makes a massive difference to reading time. For example, if we compare a plain language version of a medical brochure with its original, we notice that reading time falls from 14 to 4.5 minutes. That’s a 67% decrease in reading time!

On the other hand, companies also save time because they have fewer customer complaints and enquiries to respond to. For example, when the Arizona Department of Revenue improved 3 of its standard customer letters, calls from customers dropped 78% (from 23,000 a year to just 5,000). For more examples of time saved by plain language, check out Dr Joseph Kimble’s book, Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please 2nd edition.

Plain language bills protect consumers

Unnecessary legalese, misleading designs, and structures that bury what consumers need to know are hallmarks of scams, fraud and predatory practices. Energy retailers can use plain language to show consumers that they’re genuine and help consumers understand their rights and responsibilities.

Plain language also makes billing information more accessible to consumers in marginalised groups, such as people with low literacy or cognitive impairments. Sometimes retailers forget that these groups need to be able to easily pay their bills or switch providers too.

What does an energy bill look like in plain language?

The AER has published examples of bills that follow their guidelines for plain language. They show how  structure, design and wording can be optimised to help consumers find the information they need, understand it and act on it.

For example, the guidelines direct energy retailers to write bills that:

  • make the most important information most prominent
  • use plenty of white space
  • present complex information in tables, graphs or infographics
  • use icons and clear headings to guide the reader
  • use a conversational tone, plain language and basic grammar
  • avoid jargon, technical terms, uncommon terminology, abbreviations and acronyms.

The guidelines also direct energy providers to test their updated bills with consumers to check their effectiveness. User testing is one of the key plain language principles set out in the international standard: Plain language – Part 1: Governing principles and guidelines (ISO 24495-1).

Where can you learn to use plain language?

Our workshops can help you align your bills, and other documents, with the AER’s guidelines and ISO 24495-1.

You can attend an online or face-to-face workshop wherever you are around Australia. Or take advantage of our state-of-the-art training facilities in capital cities from Brisbane to Perth. 

Whether you have 2 hours or 2 days, we have a workshop to suit your schedule and needs. To find the best course for you, contact our friendly sales team today.

Don’t have the time to update your bills yourself? Contact our editors to translate your bills into plain language. Your customers will love you for it!

Or check out our suite of free online resources to get you started.

Part of the EdventureCo Group