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A fifth of households billed wrongly by energy suppliers

For the 8th year in a row, consumers have voted energy suppliers as one of the worst offenders for getting bills wrong, according to new research from Uswitch.com. Two in ten households (19%) have been billed incorrectly by their energy company within the last two years. And, despite a drop in the number of inaccuracies, companies are now taking almost twice as long to resolve their customers’ billing issues__:

  • Bad billing: 19% of households have been billed incorrectly by their energy company within the last two years – 11% have had this happen more than once

  • Eight years and counting: energy suppliers have consistently been amongst the worst billers since 2007 – only HMRC is a bigger culprit for getting bills wrong

    • Bill shock: four in ten households (39% or 10.14 million) have unexpectedly owed money to their energy supplier following a discrepancy between an estimated bill and ‘real’ bill – up from 37% last year

    • Costly mistakes: average amount owed following a billing discrepancy is now £146

    • Longer waiting times: billing inaccuracies now take almost 2 months on average for suppliers to resolve – less are also being resolved within a week or in a day

    • Taking control: eight in ten households (80%) have provided their energy supplier with a meter reading in the last six months – 3% more than in 2013.

Energy suppliers have once again been named by consumers as one of the biggest culprits for getting bills wrong, according to new research from Uswitch.com, the independent price comparison and switching service. For the 8th year running, the energy industry has been left trailing behind banks, council tax departments, mortgage companies and other utilities – only HMRC trumps it for getting bills wrong.

Two in ten households (19%) have been billed incorrectly by their energy company within the last two years – over one in ten (11%) have had this happen more than once. But while this is an improvement on last year when a quarter of households (25%) had been billed incorrectly, there are other worrying signs that suppliers are letting consumers down.

The number of households that have suddenly ended up owing money to their energy supplier following a discrepancy between an estimated bill and a ‘real’ bill, has increased from just over 9.6 million (37%) last year to over 10 million (39%) this year. The average amount owed is now £146, although over one in ten (14%) have unexpectedly ended up owing £200 – £400, while 7% have ended up owing over £400.

Consumers now also have to wait longer for billing issues to be resolved. Last year suppliers were taking just over a month to sort out billing concerns. This year this has leapt to almost two months, even though the number of issues has fallen. Disappointingly, less are now being resolved within a week – 39% compared to 42% last year – and even fewer are being resolved within 24 hours – 11% compared to a healthier 16% last year.

However, more consumers are looking to take control of their bills by providing their own meter readings rather than relying on estimates. Eight in ten households (80%) have provided their energy supplier with a meter reading in the last six months – a 3% increase on last year and 16% more than in 2009. Just over six in ten (64%) have done so within the last three months – perfect given that quarterly meter readings are the best way to ensure an accurate bill.

Ann Robinson, Director of Consumer Policy at Uswitch.com, says: “Consumers are typically paying over £100 a month for gas and electric, so the fact that they cannot rely on the accuracy of their bills is simply unacceptable. With energy bills accounting for the largest chunk of household expenditure after rent and mortgage payments, billing blunders can leave consumers feeling frustrated, susceptible and out of pocket.

“There is a toxic link between estimated bills, inaccuracy and debt, which has to be broken. Estimated bills should come with a health warning and with a very simple message and advice about them. If a bill is estimated then the customer should be encouraged to get in touch with a correct reading so that an updated and accurate bill can be sent.

“The move to smart meters will eventually put an end to estimated bills and ensure that consumers enjoy up-to-date bills based on their actual usage. But in the meantime it’s important that we all continue to provide our suppliers with regular meter readings – just one reading every three months could do wonders for the accuracy of our bills.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Alexa Wheeler

Phone: 0207 1484 661

Email: alexa.wheeler@uswitch.com

Twitter: @uswitchPR

Notes to editors

Research referred to in the notes below was conducted by YouGov on behalf of Uswitch.com. Fieldwork took place between 3rd to 6th February, 2014, amongst 2,232 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. 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.

  2. In response to: ‘Thinking about your energy bill(s), has your energy supplier(s) billed you inaccurately within the last two years?’ 11% said ‘yes, on more than one occasion’ while 8% said ‘yes, once’. Added together this makes 19% that have had an inaccurate bill compared to 25% in 2013.

  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)? 12% said ‘yes on more than one occasion’ and 27% said ‘yes, once’. This adds up to 39%. 39% of 26 million households is 10.14 million compared to 37% or 9.62 million households in 2013.

  4. Asked of those who answered ‘yes’ to the point above: ‘Approximately how much in total did you owe?’ The average was £145.85.

  5. In response to: ‘How long did it take for the inaccuracy to be resolved to your satisfaction?’ 11% said ‘a day’ (16% in 2013), 28% answered ‘within a week’ (26% in 2013), adding up to 39% within a week compared to 42% in 2013.

  6. In response to: ‘When did you last read your own meter and give a reading to your energy supplier?’ 32% said within the last month, 32% said 2 to 3 months ago and 16% said 4 to 6 months ago. These add up to 80% within the last 6 months. In 2013, 77% had read their own meter in the last 6 months.

  7. Based on a medium user consuming 3,200 kWh of electricity and 13,500 kWh of gas on a standard dual fuel tariff, paying quarterly by cash and cheque, with bill sizes averaged across the big six suppliers and all regions.

  8. Source: ONS Family Spending Report, 2013 Edition. http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/family-spending/family-spending/2013-edition/index.html

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