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Tired of wasting energy on inaccurate bills?

Coin on gas flame

With so many bills to keep track of every month, perhaps it was inevitable that I would run into a problem. But after an expensive mistake with my energy direct debit, I’ll start watching my bills like a hawk.

Research from uSwitch has found that energy suppliers are one of the biggest culprits for getting bills wrong. And after my week-long wrestle with my own supplier, I can’t say I’m surprised.

Just over seven months ago, I moved into a rented house with my partner. Before we’d even unpacked our boxes, I compared prices to find the cheapest energy supplier, and subsequently switched to EDF Energy.

At the time, our direct debit was inexplicably set at £57 per month. Over the next seven months, we paid our £57 direct debit, building up a total credit of £342.

A series of unwelcome shocks

Then, last month, we found a house we wanted to buy. As we drastically cut back on non-essential spending, I realised we hadn’t received a single bill from EDF yet. As a result, I submitted my meter readings to see if we were in debit.

And boy, were we in debit. Over seven months, we’d managed to rack up a bill that was more than double what we’d paid in direct debits – £425 to be precise. I won’t lie to you, dear reader, I didn’t take the news very well! But this was just shock number one.

We received a warning that our direct debit was going to go up to £208 a month. That’s an increase of £151 per month – or 265%. I got straight on to EDF’s customer service advisers, who told me this amount was to cover our debit plus future usage. However – if I paid the £425 debit, our direct debit amount would be revised.

So, we swallowed the bitter pill and paid the £425 debit in order to make our monthly payments more manageable. But when I contacted EDF again, they told us that the direct debit would stay set at £208. I was gobsmacked. I won’t bore you with the maths, but our energy usage had never come close to £208 a month.

A big waste of energy

After calling again and being told ‘this figure is based on your usage’ – I decided to make a complaint. On dialling the complaints number, I heard a message saying, ‘we’re dealing with a high volume of calls at the moment’ (oh dear). So I hung up and took to Twitter.

After making some noise about it publicly, EDF’s Twitter advisers soon contacted me and asked me to send them an email. Very promptly, I had a call from their complaints department and, as suspected, the £208 was a mistake. Our direct debit was recalculated to £94.

So my story has a happy ending, but not without a great deal of wasted time and unnecessary stress. And it seems I’m not the only one having problems, as our latest research reveals that EDF receives more complaints per 1,000 accounts than any other energy supplier.

Where does your supplier appear in the energy complaints league table? Have you had to deal with any wrong energy bills?


I always take my meter readings on the last day on each month & give them to NPower, Then ask them how much i have used that month. Lets say I used £30 worth. My direct debit is for £27 a month so I would pay the extra £3 there and then via my debit card. I have been working this way for about 3 years now and found it the best way to not get into debt with them.

(I also must admit when i have a problem i do take to Twitter too and it works).


I used to get readings every time. But in the end I decided it wasn’t worth the extra time and effort, and instead I’m now paying a fixed amount by Direct Debit, and then every year I either get money back or the regular payment goes up. That way I know how much I’ll be paying each month, it spreads the cost out over the year (instead of making the cold months expensive) and I don’t have to worry about getting readings. That said I’ve started doing readings often anyway, just for my own records, so I can see when the usage goes up and down.


Great idea Svendhhh – especially for keeping an eye on your energy usage. I’m all for paying a fixed direct debit – but I do get a bit fed up when I’m overpaying significantly. When you’re in credit with your energy supplier, that’s money that you could instead by earning interest on. That’s why I like the idea of smart meters!


True about the interest, but look at it this way:

Say you’re £50 in credit averaged over a year (that’s quite high I think).
Say you could make 2% interest if you could invest the money instead (difficult with today’s rates).
That would mean you’d now lost £1 in that year.
However, if you have to get and submit a meter reading, and then make a manual payment every month, that could easily take you up around an hour per year.
That’s not a very good hourly rate for the time spend on this 🙂

I guess the ideal situation is the one Mr Somedoubts describes, where OVO Energy were paying him interest for the money while he was in credit (not sure if they would also charge interest if you were in debt?). Then you could just set up a massive direct debit, relax, forget about the bills, sit back and watch the money roll in (almost :P).


Good maths, Svend! And I will reluctantly agree that the actual material loss is likely to be pretty low. However – you mention that £50 credit is fairly high – yet on many occasions, I have been in hundreds of pounds of credit with my supplier. I think OVO Energy’s model of paying interest on credit is a great idea.

I think, if I were honest with myself, it’s more a question of principle than monetary loss/gain. My £50 credit may only be worth £1 in interest to me, but if a supplier has millions of customers, all in £50 credit, the gain to that company could be substantial.

Martin says:
27 March 2013

I am having the same problem with EDF. The direct debit was set at £105pm and I sent in meter readings after four months of this winter and saw we had got arrears of £225. The average monthly usage for gas and electric was £160 but somehow EDF calculate the monthly usage to be £202pm and have set the new direct debit at this figure – doubling our bill. They work out the monthly usage by adding the arrears to your usage so they double count your bill. I spoke to them offering to pay off the arrears in one go provided they keep the direct debit to around £120 to £130pm. They have refused. They basically want me to pay them £800 by July before they will even consider a review of the direct debit again. This is now subject to a written complaint and I wait to see what rubbish they come up with. It’s outrageous that they demand £800 when going into the summer.


I had a similar experience with Scottish power. We had been paying £30pm for gas and electricity for a year and ended up about £80 in debt. They then insisted that we started paying £60pm “based on the meter readings we had been submitting”. I tried to convince them that that didn’t make any sense, but they wouldn’t listen. Predictably we ended up massively overpaying, and ended up getting something like £300 back from them at the end of the following year. After that the bill was brought down to a more reasonable £40-ish which seemed to suit our usage.


Hi Martin, this sounds almost exactly the same as my problem. Once I complained, they were happy to help me sort it out. It’s just a shame that it has to come to complaints.


No one is really being overcharged or undercharged. In reality and in the end you will be paying for what you actually use at the set unit price. Where people get unpleasant surprises is down to not sending in actual meter readings at least every two or three months.
Leave it to your supplier and you’re bound to get over estimated bills and if you let them set your monthly direct debit they are bound to set it on the high side. Money in their account is seen by them as better than money in your’s, who’s ever money it is.

Take control yourself. Send in meter readings at least once a quarter, do the sums and don’t let the supplier dictate the level of monthly direct debit, and you’ll get no surprises.
By taking a closer interest you’ll also very likely see better where you are using more than you need to, cut down on the waste and overall pay out less.

Now some will argue that a smart meter will do all that for you but don’t forget there is the small matter of paying for the roll out of these things through a levy on your bill. You’ll pay your share of the £11 billion roll out cost, and the smart meter itself won’t save you a penny. Rather it will just make life a bit easier for the supplier, give them more control over your supply and all at your expense.

I’ll opt for sending a meter reading every couple of months and negotiating realistic monthly direct debit levels.


Hi Chris, I absolutely agree that submitting my meter readings would be the best way to manage my bills. However, when I spoke to the adviser at EDF, he told me that every time I submitted a meter read, my direct debit would be recalculated – and this can (as you’ve seen) cause problems. Unfortunately, EDF won’t allow you to set your own direct debit – in this case, they only allowed me to have an input after I registered a formal complaint.


e.on was forever saying that they would have to increase my direct debit payment, sometimes even when I was in credit by a substantial amount. Every time I rang them they did take action without much argument, though within a few months we would go through the exercise again. Very irritating but very satisfying that they did respond positively. I just wish I could read my meter and pay for what I use, but I would have had to pay a higher price for energy for this privilege.


Not always the case. I had a problem where nPower got the night and day meters confused and ended up having to forego some payment because they had taken too long sorting it out.. That was a sweet moment.


Well there are other suppliers? EDF is one of the big six and I still have trouble understanding how any of them have any customers at all such is the poor service volatile pricing they all offer. I get my energy from OVO and they will talk to you, prices are very competitive and if you find you have a credit balance they pay you 3% interest.

You say EDF have various rules not allowing you to negotiate direct debit levels and that you only got anywhere by lodging a formal complaint?
I’d say if you have to lodge a formal complaint to get them to discuss an issue you should be thinking hard as to whether it’s a good idea being a customer of their’s at all. You should not have to put up with unreasonable rules they might try to impose.
Don’t mess around with a formal complaints procedure, vote with your feet.

Personally after trying most of them I won’t be going anywhere near any of the big six cartel. They give me the impression they’re doing me some big favor by supplying my energy, and think they can dictate whatever terms they see fit.
Dream on big six, I’m one consumer who won’t put up with it while better service, and usually pricing, is on offer with the smaller outfits.