Over-complicated household bills ‘leaving customers overcharged’

Close to three quarters of consumers in the UK (73 per cent) are unable to work out whether there has been a mistake on their energy bill, while just …

Close to three quarters of consumers in the UK (73 per cent) are unable to work out whether there has been a mistake on their energy bill, while just short of a third (30 per cent) said the same for their water bills, according to new research by uSwitch.com.

This represents a serious concern for households as in the last 12 months people were overcharged by £6.7 billion on household bills, with 95 per cent of cases spotted by consumers themselves, rather than the companies at fault.

However, individuals are being left confused by their bills and statements and firms are guilty of over-complicating them with too much jargon. Because of this consumers are unable to tell if they have been charged too much or not.

Of all bills, energy suppliers are the worst offenders for confusing statements. More than eight in ten people (82 per cent) saying energy statements are harder to understand than any other household bill, while 86 per cent say they are too complicated, 73 per cent claim they use too much jargon and 65 per cent cannot find the information they need. 

Worryingly, 38 per cent of respondents felt they have lost money because an energy bill has been too difficult to understand. In fact, such is the complexity that just a quarter (27 per cent) are certain that they have not lost out.

Interestingly, consumers still put more trust in energy companies than other sectors to get bills right. Almost two in five (38 per cent) trust their gas or electricity provider, while 21 per cent and 33 per cent have faith in their digital television service and mobile phone company respectively.

People trust council tax departments the most, with more than half (52 per cent) believing they get their billing correct.

Thankfully, many companies within several industries are now taking steps to improve the way they draw up their statements, with energy firms leading the way.

Almost half of consumers (45 per cent) claim their energy bills have become more customer-friendly in the last year, while only three in ten say the same for home telephone statements. 

Ann Robinson, director of consumer policy at uSwitch.com, says: "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."

Considering how much money is spent on household bills each month it is vital for people to ensure they are paying the right amount each month. With adults in the UK struggling to make ends meet, while attempting to pay for debt at the same time, it has never been more important for consumers to make sure they are not being overcharged.

Hopefully the upcoming changes will make the process of billing much more straightforward so individuals can see exactly what they are paying.

By James Francis

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