Ofgem has finally forced improvements to energy bills, but has the regulator really taken things far enough? Will the bills sent out by reluctant energy suppliers be easier for us to understand?
I don’t know about you, but ‘calorific value’ is something I’d expect to see printed on a food label.
Equally, ‘volume correction’ could easily be a button on my stereo. So it seemed out of place when these phrases cropped up on a gas bill (alongside the completely unfathomable ‘kWh@p’).
Plus, in apparent defiance of mathematical logic, my supplier (Scottish Power) had also decided to use a minus sign to show my account was in credit.
When we asked gobbledygook watchdog, The Plain English Campaign (PEC), to run its expert eye over all the big energy suppliers’ bills last year, it uncovered a world of confusing and unexplained jargon.
We’ve used the PEC’s findings – and other research – to put pressure on energy suppliers and the regulator, Ofgem. Bills should be clear and easy to understand, so that they serve their key purpose of helping us take control of our consumption and costs.
Energy bills are improving – slowly
Thankfully, our hard work is starting to pay off. As of 24 June, suppliers are required to send out – in addition to regular bills – annual statements showing any premiums or discounts you’ve received and any that you could get. They’ll also contain advice on how to switch supplier.
I’ll hold judgement until I see the improved bills, but I do have an initial concern. The new rules only say what sort of information needs to be provided, rather than how it should be presented.
It’s absolutely essential that each supplier makes their bills as clear and straightforward as possible. It’d be great, for example, to see all suppliers follow the lead of Npower and get their bills approved by the PEC’s Crystal Mark for Clarity scheme.
Why can’t bills be standardised?
Of course, it’d be much easier if all companies produced identical bills. To me, there’s absolutely no reason why all energy bills can’t be standardised under an approved easy-to-understand format.
In fact, nine in ten Which? members agree with the statement ‘all energy companies’ bills should be based on a standard format and provide the same type of information’.
If energy companies really want a competitive market that rewards them for being better than their rivals, they should welcome a situation where all customers have the information they need in a format they can understand with ease.