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Annual energy statements still don’t fit the bill

Man confused by bills

Energy suppliers were forced to make their bills easier to understand, but as expected, it doesn’t look like they’ve done a good job. Our gas and electricity bills are just as frustratingly confusing as they’ve ever been.

Last month I doubted annual energy statements would be the silver bullet that puts an end to confusing communication from energy suppliers – and it looks like I was right to be cautious.

This week’s announcement from Consumer Focus (CF) proves my point. The government watchdog has had a good look at the big six suppliers’ annual statements and found that only British Gas’s statement is presented in a way that helps us easily understand how much energy we’ve used.

For me, the one thing an annual statement should do – whether it’s from a bank, your pension fund, or the taxman – is set out clearly what’s been happening on your account that year.

For gas and electricity customers, that means telling you how much you’ve used and how much it cost you. If we’ve got this information, it’s so much easier to shop around for the best deal and find ways to be more energy efficient.

I’m sure the suppliers marked down by CF for this – Eon, EDF, Scottish Power, Npower, or Scottish & Southern – know exactly how much their customers are spending.

They’re certainly quick enough to remind us if a bill goes unpaid for any reason. So why aren’t they able to give us this information once a year in a format we can understand? It’s not that much to ask.

Any more of this and I might start to think that the suppliers have no real interest in us spending less on energy…

Comments
Guest
Janet Corbett says:
6 August 2010

I recently switched energy suppliers to ‘save money’ but found it difficult, if not impossible, to quickly establish whether I have made the right choice because the suppliers do not use a standard format and I could not compare ‘like for like’.

Guest
Megan Jenkins says:
16 August 2010

And after you switch, they then change the rates and the bills are still impossible to understand. Why, when we pay so much for energy, are the bills so appalling. Come on Which, you’ve done a lot for credit card statements – this should be your next big fight.

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Guest

Thanks for your comments, Megan.

As you can probably tell from the two rants I’ve had about energy bills and annual statements on these pages, Which? shares your frustration. However, our advocacy people are taking the fight for better and clearer bills to the heart of government and the regulator, Ofgem. For more on our energy bills campaign, check out the pages on our energy bills campaign

Guest
LPS Dave says:
24 August 2010

Well done Which? and James! And Well Said Megan and Janet.

However, in fairness to my supplier I would like to give them public praise: I am with Ecotricity for Gas and Electricity and although I would not say that their bills are perfect they are pretty good and far better than any that I have ever had from any previous supplier, whioch includes British Gas, Yorkshire Electricity, nPower & Scottish and Southern. Of those I would say that British Gas were the worst by far and Scottish and Southern the nearest to Ecotricity for clarity.

I woudl like to raise another issue too – I hope you don’t mind James:

Meter Readers.

Why is it that Meter Reading companies are allowed to get away with not doing their job at all?
Every single time a Meter Reader calls when I am in, he doesn’t ring the bell or knock, he just shoves a “sorry you were out” card through the door and walks off. If I get there fast enough and call them back many are aggressive and some refuse to come and read the meter even then. An estimated bill then follows, after which I have to read the meter myself, ring the energy supplier and they have to reissue a bill.

A colleague of work has even seen them do this at a house where the meters are both in boxes on the wall outside and when they challenged the reader he said he had not got a key to the boxes!!

The energy companies are charged for reading services by the meter readers, and they then have to pay for the stationary and postage of reissuing a bill. All costs which are passed on to us, the consumers, and neither we nor the energy companies get a thing back from the Meter Readers for that money at all!

To be fair one meter reader did call only a couple of weeks ago and came and read the meter, but I still got an estimated bill and when I rang to ask why the energy supplier said that the meter reading comany had only sent the last 4 digits of the meter readings, making it look like I had used MINUS 80,000 units in a quarter, so the reading was rejected. Again, whilst not the fault ofthe individual meter reader himself, this is a useless service.

Whilst Which? are taking the matter of bill clarity to Ofgem can they make some noise about meter reading too please?

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Guest

James

I have no probs with reading annual bills. Certainly whilst I was with Atlantic they clearly showed my estimated usage for the forthcoming year based on what I had used in the last 12 months so at that point I know what info to input to see whether I could get a better deal – a point to note though is DONT switch until your annual loyalty bonus/cashback arrives in your bank account (this is something Atlantic and others offer)

What annoys me more though is that once you have switched you expect the marketing hype of the new deal and service to be fulfilled – not just the price.

1) I switched last December to FU and agreed my final readings and paid them off with Atlantic. FU + the 3rd party organsiation that manages readings on behalf of the industry (Xoserve? – name escapes me) apparently disagreed with those readings even though Atlantic had accepted them
2) I have yet to receive an electricity bill because of this + plus *** system could not calculate day and night reading costs. Why should they be allowed to offer a nationwide service if they cant do that?
3) Requests for gas readings so they could send a monthly bill have been intermittent despite the marketing /service hype saying they would be. I got one in Jan then none till March. Then they cancelled and recredit me and gave me a new bill. In June they accepted my reading and bill be for that month and then in July they issued a paper credit in effect giving me back everything I had paid!! They never told me that and speaking to them this a.m. they said we did that so we can rebill you against that credit note for all gas and electricty since December. So what I said, dont you think about communicating that to the customer that? Why should I have to pay to phone you on an 0845 number to find that out, you should be telling me; it’s what is known as customer service
4) Its all very well paying on a monthly DD for what you actually use but if they dont ask you to read your meter and dont bill you and wont accept a monthly DD as part payment whilst they get their act together you end up, as I will with a large unpaid electricty bill to pay.

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Guest

PS to my above comment, as I Switched with Which? I do think that you should ensure that companies that YOU allow to be part of that system have the capabilty to provide a full service. Otherwise it denigrates your brand as in effect you are recommending that company .

And if you recd a commission on the sale as others do, would you like to send it to me please to recompense me for the time and calls I have spent on sorting it.

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Guest

Jem’s experience sounds very typical of the nightmares that are regularly reported in The Observer and The Guardian and also on Radio 4 programmes such as You and Yours. I feel very sorry for Jem and all others who are in / have been through the same difficulties. Whilst the specific problems are different it sounds like another facet of the same issue in LPS Dave’s post.
I would say that the moral of this is that before switching companies one should find out everything possible amount the customer service provided by the company to which you propose to change and then, having done so, think extremely carefully about whether any fiscal savings are great enough to warrant the level of risk of poor service, as found by hearing what other customers have to say.
Personally I won’t ever switch for the sake of supposed savings alone; I would want to switch only if I felt that I would make savings AND the profits would be invested ethically / greenly AND it looked like I would get at least as good customer service as with my current supplier.
I won’t bore readers with full details, but the only reason I moved from British Gas in the first place was because their customer service was diabolical and they kept making huge errors (in their favour) with my Direct Debits. When I tried to make use of the Direct Debit guarantee to get my money back, the Bank refused to help saying that they had to take British Gas’s word for everything, so I left BG.

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Guest

I had a bill for £9000 as the idiot meter reader couldn’t read the meter dials correctly.
Fools!
I demanded a digital meter and got it FoC.
The real bill was £49