Bad billing: energy companies

April 11, 2011, 7:46 PM GMT+0

Almost 3 out of 10 households have been incorrectly billed by their energy supplier, our online survey for online comparison site uSwitch has revealed. Energy suppliers are one of the worst culprits for bad billing according to the research ‒ better only than the Inland Revenue, which was voted worst by the public for its billing practices.

  • 27% of households were billed incorrectly by their supplier in the last two years
  • 14% say that this has happened more than once
  • Just one in five households (20%) says that energy companies are very accurate in their billing, compared to 4% who say they are not accurate at all
  • This record is better only than that of the Inland Revenue, about which just 13% say provides very accurate bills, versus 7% who say it is very inaccurate
  • In comparison, 49% judged banks to be very accurate (With only 1% calling them very inaccurate)
  • Credit card and store card providers came next, with 36% calling them very accurate and 1% very inaccurate

Incorrect bills have resulted in confusion and financial worry for many people; 10.4 million have unexpectedly found themselves in debt to energy companies due to discrepancies between the estimate and the actual bills, with the average debt totalling £147.

Ofgem investigates

Confusing billing was one of the aspects of the energy industry highlighted by regulator Ofgem in its recent investigation into the 'Big 6' gas and electricity suppliers.

Energy suppliers have been voted the worst for billing every year since 2007. British Gas, SSE, Scottish Power, npower, E.ON and EDF were all criticised for inaccurate and substandard billing.

However, this year the Inland Revenue scored worse for its billing, with customers naming it the worst culprit for getting bills wrong. It has been the subject of several campaigns aiming to highlight the consequences of poor billing.

In a response to a 2009 petition launched by uSwitch, the Government stated that they 'are currently exploring the most effective ways of providing consumers with information on bills’, and agreed that 'it is important that [consumers] receive information that is accurate, relevant and helps them to reduce their energy costs’.
The response added, '[Giving consumers information] also fits with a broader agenda of empowering people to take control of their lives.’

Resolving billing blunders

Bad billing can be more serious than it may first appear, said Ann Robinson, Director of Consumer Policy at uSwitch. ‘Inaccurate bills are no laughing matter for consumers who can end up out of pocket, as well as wasting time and effort trying to resolve billing blunders,’ she explained.

‘Consumers should aim to provide a reading once a quarter - failure to do so can result in receiving an estimated bill, which is where many of the issues relating to accuracy lie. It is a simple step to take, but it really is in all of our interests to make sure that suppliers are using up-to-date information on our bills’.

See the survey details and full results here