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Baffling bills leave consumers vulnerable to over-charging

Complicated, jargon-heavy bills leave three quarters of consumers unable to spot mistakes in energy charges

Research carried out by uSwitch.com has shown that the majority of consumers are unable to accurately interpret their energy bills. In the last year consumers in the UK were overcharged by £6.7bn on household bills.

The survey, which looked at a variety of household bills, saw energy suppliers singled out as the main culprits with 86% of respondents complaining that their bills were too confusing.

Mixed results for energy suppliers

82% of those surveyed claim energy bills are the most difficult household charges to comprehend. Principal complaints include being too complicated (86%), an overload of jargon (73%) and difficult to find information (65%). One in four consumers believes these factors may have led to them being overcharged. Providers which supply easier to understand bills include banks, building societies and credit card companies.

In a more positive note, 38% of respondents trust energy suppliers to bill them correctly. In contract, one in three trust their mobile phone operator to charge them correctly and just one in five their Digital TV provider. In addition, 45% of consumers said their energy bills have become easier to understand in the past year.

Calls for ‘clear and concise bills’

Ann Robinson, director of consumer policy at uSwitch.com, said: “Consumers are spending thousands of pounds a year on household bills – they need to be sure that what they are paying is correct and it shouldn’t take rocket science to do so. In this day and age, clear and concise bills should be the very least that consumers should expect. The fact that some companies and industries are still unable to get this fundamental part of their service right is simply unacceptable.

“It’s also clear that some sectors such as banking and personal finance are leading the way in providing customers with bills that they can understand, check and act upon. It’s important that other sectors look at their success and start to learn from it. All industries use jargon, but some are clearly better than others at shielding their customers from it rather than blinding them with it.

“Supplying simple, straightforward and helpful bills is a vital part of building trust and consumer confidence. It helps to put customers in control and enables them to make informed decisions and choices about products and services. It also means that consumers stand a greater chance of spotting any inaccuracies or incorrect charges – this is also why, despite the difficulties, consumers must continue to check their bills carefully as failure to do so could leave them out of pocket.”

‘Simplifying energy tariffs’

Greg Barker, minister for energy, commented on the report: “The Coalition is determined to do everything we can to help hard pressed families with the rising cost of living. That also means going further than any government before in simplifying energy tariffs.

“Baffling billing for gas and electricity is exactly why we’re taking powers in the Energy Bill to help consumers.

“Our proposals are putting the power back into consumers hands by making sure they have the information they need in clear, simple format so that the 84% of households who don’t switch can get the best deal.”

Learn more

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