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SSE: how we’re making energy bills clearer

Confused man

Does your energy bill confuse you? Here’s Will Morris of the energy supplier SSE on what they’ve been doing to improve their energy bills.

Complex bills are one of the biggest bugbears for bill payers but the majority of information included on them is stipulated by rules which in many cases govern both content and format.

All the information included on energy bills is there for the right reasons, to help and inform customers, but over the years the amount of information included has grown to the point where the bill becomes cluttered and confusing.

Improving energy bills

SSE bill page 1Working with customers and consumers groups, including Which?, we at SSE have been trying to work out how to improve bills for customers. Our research has shown that customers want to be able to find the essential information they need (price, due date, account information etc) quickly, as well as a little more detail and important information such as contact details.

In general, customers have said they don’t want their bill to be more than two sides of a piece of paper and they want it presented in an attractive, clear style. We have designed a new bill which research has shown is easier to use, clearer and more engaging. Customers have told us that the design flows better and makes it easier to find key information.

We think the new design goes a long way to solve the issues, but there is of course more work to be done.

So what to do?

We support the work Ofgem is doing to improve the rules that govern what goes on an energy bill. But the most important people in this whole process are the customers, because you are the ones that have to read and understand your bill when you receive it.

So, what do you think can be improved about bills? Does our new design make it easier to find the information you need? What don’t you understand on your current bill? Would you be more likely to read your bill if it was more attractive like our new design? We need to know what you think if we’re going to make bills better for everyone.

This is a guest contribution by Will Morris, Group Managing Director at SEE. All opinions are Will’s own, not necessarily those of Which?

Comments
Member

I am all for a simplified presentation. What seems to be missing here are the dates of the usage period and the dates payments were made.

I suggest without the graphics this bill could be condensed to a single page.

However I see no reason not to then have a more comprehensive explanation of the bill. For example we know that raw energy forms only about 42% of the bill, so the amounts in government levies, transmission costs, administration charges for example, and so on, could be broken out in a supplement for those interested. It would also be helpful to see just how the standing charge is made up; this varies from supplier to supplier and causes some ire. Just what is charged as a fixed amount for everyone, and why?

Member

In the pdf example you’ve linked, I’m sure 5% of £79.29 isn’t £1.75. Surely is more like £3.96 which will then make everything else wrong.

In the example you also have a section stating that you could save £10 by switching to a cheaper tariff. Are you using Ofgem laughably flawed rules to calculate that? FYI for those that don’t know OFGEMs rules assume that if you’re on a fixed tariff for part of the year that the comparison is done against, then utility companies are allowed to assume that you’d switch to their standard tariff. Which means they can sneakly up prices yet still show a saving.

Member

Sorry about this, on page 1 you show the units used for gas and electricity. For the gas is that cubic feet or meters? On page 2 you state the kWh used for the gas as 1263.71 where’s the explanation of how that’s calculated Are you assuming a Calorific Value ( CV ) of 39.3 ? If so where’s that stated.

Member

well spotted william, a gas meter will record volume used – used to be cubic feet, now cubic meters. As the calorific value varies from time to time the volume needs converting to get the energy (kWh, units) used. So the reading (40 cu.m used) needs converting by multiplying by a multiplier, a conversion factor ( for site pressure and temperature) and the calorific value (currently 1, 1.02264 and 39.1 in my case) and dividing by 3.6. This simplifies to multiplying the cu. m by 11.1; so 40 cu.m used should equate to 444 kWh or “units”.

Calorific value is continuously measured by transco and given to energy companies daily.

This sort of information should be part of the supplementary page I suggested. Some people are interested in details.

Member

Impressive but I’m a bit confused about the cubic meter. 😉

Member

is it the same as a cubic metre?

Member

jnazz99, a cubic meter (USA) is a cubic metre (UK). My typo.

A UK cubic meter, as no doubt wavechange gleefully spotted, is a gas meter with all sides of equal length.

I wonder if the USA has, to avoid confusion, gas metres?

Member

Not to be confused with meter and metre in music. 🙂

Malcolm – I only mentioned it because you thought that I hadn’t spotted a typo in another discussion. Typos are best ignored ……. unless they are amusing.

Member

A much worse typo was available to Malcolm but thankfully declined.

Member
Marcus says:
26 February 2016

Looks good in general (though I’m not an SSE customer so don’t know what the current bills look like – would be useful to show that too for comparison but I suggest the following improvements:
1) The billing period should be above “Your electricity”, not in the “Total to pay” bubble/flame (missed completely by another commenter)
2) Usage in KWh should be displayed in the same places as to readings (as the latter are pretty meaningless)
3) Usage (in KWh) for previous period, same period last year and last 12 months should be in the right hand column for each of gas, electric, and total to pay
4) “Could you pay less?” should be in a separate section at the bottom following total
5) Strip out as many “Your”s as possible, they are currently inconsistent (why not “Your total to pay”?!) and superfluous anyway (who else’s would they be?)

Member

Marcus, thanks – I did miss the billing period. I was looking for it where the “usage” was for gas and electricity and on the front page but overlooked it in the bubble. I think it should be with the E and G usage, but also prominent on the front page; that is where I’d look when sorting bills.

I am not a fan of unnecessary graphics. Information can be more clearly laid out without resorting to what I see as gimmicks; my opinion though.

Member

I am an SSE customer and I think the new layout for the bill is brilliant. So clear. Well done.

Member

It would be useful when setting these exercises for us if Which? would enable the link to the new format to open in a separate window so we can easily flip between the bill and the comment page. Anyway, having done that myself, these are my thoughts:

Generally I agree with Malcolm on the need for additional detail, especially the breakdown of the peripheral charges which account for over half the bill [but I can appreciate why the energy companies might be reluctant to show this].

a. I agree with Marcus on the presentation of the “Could you pay less?” feature; it looks detached from the answer at present.

b. The charging period should be displayed first showing the date of the meter reading [I don’t always give mine for the same day as I have to go out in the rain to read the gas meter whereas the electricity meter is in the garage].

c. The bill should show the source of the reading e.g. “Read by you / Read by us / Estimated”. [All readings are actual readings, even estimated ones!]

d. I agree with Marcus on dropping the “your”s.

e. It says : “Please see the back page for ways to pay”. Well I looked for that information but couldn’t find it anywhere [unless it is assumed within the “Payment method” line in each of the “About your electricity/gas” boxes but no address for such payments is given].

f. “Your balance” should say “The balance to pay is” or “You are in credit by ……… and we will refund this on …….. “.

g. I think the bars showing spend for different periods should be in chronological order of start date ranging from the left.

I expect it is an Ofgem requirement to show the comparative spends but I think it is too confusing. The amounts represented by the bars cannot be presumed to compare like with like: the unit price or standing charge might have altered; the government levies etc could have changed; the weather would almost certainly have been different from one quarter to the next; the occupation pattern of the property could have been different [more holidays, new baby, mother-in-law moves in, and so on – these are not necessarily consequences!]

I would prefer “use” to “usage” wherever it appears.

Other than that it is OK.

Member

Hi John, thanks for the feedback. That’s a nice idea, but it’s relatively bad practice to force all users a link to open in a new window these days, but instead, just right-click on the link and select ‘open in new window’ or ‘open in new tab’.

Member

Thanks Patrick. I should have thought of that!

Member

An afterthought.

The bill shows the account number but in view of a comment I read elsewhere it should also give the meter numbers so that people can check the bill is for the right supply [it would also be useful to have the supply address as a further aid to reconciliation for those with an additional property or who deal with aged relatives’ bills].

There was a time when the utility bills were Octavo size [less than half A4] and printed on one side only! You took them to the electricity or gas showroom in your local high street, paid the cashier, and the bill was receipted in a sort of comptometer machine and returned as proof of payment. It was so easy a child could do it [and I did]. We are lucky that things are so much simpler now of course.

Member

It does show your supply numbers which are required if you move suppliers. But it is essential it shows your meter numbers also. I had a lot of problems when I moved supplier as my current electricity meter was not the one registered with the central database; it had been changed a few years ago but not properly recorded. There were in fact 4 meters registered to my address. It took some sorting out before the new supplier could take over.

All this information could go on the supplementary page after the basic bill.

Member

Been a customer for some time BUT paperless so you are ignored.
Never heard or seen this previously
My meter was read both before and after Christmas. Not a word yet they still take their monthly payments spot on time. No clue if I’m under or over paying. No doubt I must be overpaying or they would be chasing me.

Member

At least SSE refund significant credit balances. E.On just rejig the direct debit to (over)compensate so your payment profile looks like a roller coaster.

Member

Having made a few critical comments on the draft bill format I thought it was only right to draw attention to one very good point: A combined dual-fuel bill.

I have always been a bit perplexed that dual-fuel tariffs still required the issue of separate bills for gas and electricity. Of course, the paperless billing discount would probably have to be halved in the light of this development. And those who like to file their gas and electricity bills separately will have to reorganise their administrative arrangements. Two steps forward . . .

Member

I was an SSE customer but given their history of greedy and delayed pricing, no longer. It’s maybe laudable that all of a sudden, SSE attempt to make their bills more understandable after some dubious research which is not accredited to any organisation, reputable or otherwise. That is really no good.

After being obliged to produced standardised tariff information, ALL energy companies should be obliged to produce understandable and standardised bills, with all the gas conversion stuff, billing periods included, minus extraneous colourful bubbles etc. We must be able to compare previous bills from a previous and current supplier.

The format and design of bills should not the subject of the whim or marketing policy of one of the energy suppliers. After all, the big 6 cartel continues to con us in spite of the huge reductions in wholesale prices.

So Ofgen – get your act together! You’ve done well so far, but there’s a long, long way to go.

Member

I am not convinced of the arguments for a universal standardised format for energy bills. So long as the specified information is provided I see no reason why companies should not be able to adapt the design and graphics to their own corporate house style or to incorporate additional features or information that they wish to bring to their customers’ attention.

Member

The Giro Bank payment form needs to be on the front of the main part of the bill not on a separate sheet of paper. When I pay my bill over the counter in my bank I have to take page 3 of my bill with me so this is the page that gets stamped by the bank not the main page The information that is currently printed at the bottom of page 1 ie ‘ Could you pay less? should be printed where the Giro form is now as on the back of this is information on ways to pay.
Also, SSE needs to print more information on their different tarrifs and ways to save money!

Member

How about this for clarity”

March 01, 2016

March 1 marked the official start of a number of reforms, the key one being that the government regulated gas tariffs, tarif réglementé of Engie (formerly GDF-Suez) have dropped by 3.22% excluding tax.
The exact drop depends on the extent of use by the household (3.3% for those who use it for heating, 1.1% for those using it for cooking and 2% for those who use it for cooking and hot water).
Since January 2015 gas prices on these tariffs have dropped 15.4%” !!

Member

Mini update for you: A spokesman for The Campaign for Plain English, which lobbies for clearer energy bills for consumers, said: “We applaud SSE for a fine example of clear commercial communication.
“The bill gives the reader all the information they need in a simple, easy-to-read format. The bill is one of the better examples we’ve seen and we would definitely encourage other energy companies to use the bill as a template.” http://utilityweek.co.uk/news/campaign-for-plain-english-applauds-sse%E2%80%99s-new-bill/1220892#.VtgOLvmLRaQ

Member

Unfortunately, the link does not work.

I expect that those who have posted could interpret their energy bills however poorly they are presented. Maybe it would be best to ask those who struggle, and they are less likely to contribute to this Convo.

Member

Thanks wave, I’ve changed the link so it works but it’s only available to subscribers. Whoops. You get the gist though

Member
CAROL WILKINSON says:
8 April 2016

Hello Will,

Would you please tell me the off peak hours, start and stop times, with any seasonal variations for SSE cheaper rate or ‘Economy 7 ‘ rate electricity?

I want to do my bit for the pressure on day time electricity surges…..and my bill!

It would be helpful to remind customers of these times on their bills

many thanks

Carol

Member
Michael Wilson says:
22 October 2016

The most confusing item on most household accounts is the fact that gas therms which are recorded on most consumers digital meters are converted into K. Watt hours by a very
complex equation. This means you need a degree in Maths to find out how many K. Watt hours have been used and find out roughly how much Gas one has used. With the Electric Meter it is a straight forward digital reading.

Member

My supplier does that calculation for me on the bill, Michael.