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A quarter of households billed wrongly by energy companies

New research from Uswitch.com reveals that a quarter (25%) of households have been billed incorrectly by their energy company within the last two years. Such is the industry’s track record that consumers have voted energy suppliers as one of the biggest culprits for getting bills wrong for the 7th year in a row:

  • Bad billing: 25% of households have been billed incorrectly by their energy company within the last two years – 13% have had this happen more than once

  • Unexpected expense: over a third of households (37% or 9.62 million) have unexpectedly owed money to their energy supplier following a discrepancy between an estimated bill and ‘real’ bill

  • Costly errors: average amount owed following a billing discrepancy is now £154 – £2 more than last year and £7 more than the year before

  • Waiting: billing inaccuracies take just over a month on average to resolve – 42% are sorted out within a week though, with 16% sorted out in a day – 3% more than last year

  • Rise of self-reliance: over three quarters of households (77%) have provided their energy supplier with a meter reading in the last six months – a 3% increase on 2012

  • Guilty as charged: energy suppliers have consistently been amongst the worst billers since 2007 – only the Inland Revenue is a bigger culprit for getting bills wrong.

For the 7th year running, consumers have named energy suppliers as one of the biggest culprits for getting bills wrong, according to new research from Uswitch.com, the independent price comparison and switching service. When it comes to accuracy, the energy industry trails behind banks, council tax departments, credit card companies and other utility companies – only the Inland Revenue trumps it for getting bills wrong.

One in four households (25%) have been billed incorrectly by their energy company within the last two years – 13% have had this happen more than once. On average, these errors take just over a month to resolve, although 42% are sorted out within a week. However, there has been an improvement in the number of billing inaccuracies suppliers sort out within a day – 16% are now resolved within 24 hours, compared to just 13% last year.

As well as taking time and effort to sort out, inaccurate bills can leave people in debt or falling behind on payments. Worryingly, the number of households that have unexpectedly ended up owing money to their energy supplier following a discrepancy between an estimated bill and a ‘real’ bill, has increased from just over 9 million (35%) last year to almost 10 million (37%) this year. The average amount owed is now £154 – £2 more than last year and £7 more than the year before. However, over one in ten (12%) have unexpectedly ended up owing £200 – £400, while 6% have ended up owing over £500.

As a result, the number of households taking matters into their own hands by providing their own meter readings, rather than relying on estimates, has grown again. In fact, over three quarters of households (77%) have provided their energy supplier with a meter reading in the last six months – a 3% increase on last year and 13% more than in 2009. With the cost of energy soaring, consumers are realising that it doesn’t pay to rely on estimated bills.

Ann Robinson, Director of Consumer Policy at Uswitch.com, says: “Consumers are paying more for their energy than ever before, so the fact that millions continue to be plagued with inaccurate bills is simply unacceptable. Billing blunders are not just costly, but can also take time and effort to sort out, leaving consumers both frustrated and out of pocket.

“The move to smart meters will eventually mean that households will be able to enjoy accurate, up-to-date bills based on their actual usage. The link between estimated bills, inaccuracy and debt will finally be broken.

“However, in the meantime it’s important that even more consumers join the growing ranks of those who now supply regular meter readings to their supplier. Consumers should aim to do this once a quarter as this simple step will help to improve the accuracy of energy bills and will break the vicious circle of estimated bills that can so often lead to debt.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Jo Ganly

Phone: 020 7148 4662

Email: jo.ganly@uswitch.com

Twitter: @UswitchPR

Notes to editors

Research referred to in the notes below was conducted by YouGov Plc on behalf of Uswitch.com. Fieldwork took place 13th to 15th February, 2013, amongst 2,106 adults with decision making involvement with energy suppliers.  Data is weighted to be representative of GB adults. Previous research referred to in the notes below was also conducted through YouGov.

  1. In response to: ‘Thinking about your energy bill(s), has your energy supplier(s) billed you inaccurately within the last two years?’ 13% said ‘yes, on more than one occasion’ while 12% said ‘yes, once’. Added together this makes 25% that have had an inaccurate bill.

  2. See table in the release above. All research conducted annually by YouGov on behalf of Uswitch.com amongst adults with decision making responsibility for energy bills.

  3. ‘In response to: ‘Have you ever unexpectedly owed money to your energy supplier(s) after they read your meter (i.e. because the actual reading was much higher than the estimates which meant you were required to pay the difference)? 18% said ‘yes on more than one occasion’ and 19% said ‘yes, once’. This adds up to 37%. 37% of 26 million households is 9.62 million.

  4. Asked of those who answered ‘yes’ to the point above, ‘Approximately how much in total did you owe?’, the average was £154.

  5. In response to: ‘How long did it take for the inaccuracy to be resolved to your satisfaction?’ 16% said ‘a day’, 26% answered ‘within a week’, adding up to 42% within a week.

  6. In response to: ‘When did you last read your own meter and give a reading to your energy supplier?’ 37% said within the last month, 28% said 2 to 3 months ago and 12% said 4 to 6 months ago. These add up to 77% within the last 6 months. In 2012, 74% had read their own meter in the last 6 months.

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