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Utility companies confuse customers with bills

20th July 2012 Print

Consumers struggling with the rising cost of living could be losing out further because of the shocking quality of the household bills they receive, according to research from Companies are guilty of sending bills and statements that are confusing, overly-complicated and full of jargon, leaving many consumers unable to tell whether there has been a mistake or not.

Energy suppliers are the worst offenders, with more than eight in ten people (82%) finding their bills harder to understand than any other household bill. 86% say energy bills are too complicated, 76% say they use too much jargon and 71% cannot find the information they need.

More than three quarters of people (78%) are unable to work out whether there has been a mistake on their energy bill, while almost a third say the same for their home telephone (32%) and water (28%). This leaves consumers vulnerable to issues such as overcharging or being on the wrong product or service for their needs. In the last year consumers were overcharged by £6 billion on household bills and 95% of cases were noticed by consumers themselves rather than the companies concerned.

Almost half of consumers (46%) think they have lost money because an energy bill has been too difficult to understand. Worryingly, just a quarter (24%) are certain that they haven't lost out. Baffling bills can also breed mistrust. Consumers trust council tax departments the most to get their bills right (52%) but, overall, trust is fairly low.

However, companies are taking steps to improve their bills, with energy suppliers leading the way - almost half of consumers said energy bills have become more customer friendly over the last year (47%) while a third said the same for home telephone bills (32%) and a quarter echoed this with broadband (28%) and water bills (24%).

Ann Robinson, Director of Consumer Policy at, says: "Consumers are spending thousands of pounds a year on household bills - the least they should expect is for them to be easy to understand.  At a time when money is tight, households need to be able to account for every penny spent. Bills that leave them confused and potentially out of pocket are not worth the paper they're printed on.

"The difference in the quality of household bills is astonishing, with some sectors such as banking and personal finance leading the way in giving people clear and simple information that they can act upon. At the opposite end of the spectrum are energy suppliers. However, even here there is some good news with almost half of consumers saying that energy bills have become more customer-friendly in the last year. This is a step in the right direction as a well-written, clear and concise bill should leave consumers feeling empowered and in control.

"In the meanwhile, despite the difficulties, it's important that consumers continue to check their household bills carefully to ensure that they are not being overcharged and that they are on the correct deal or service for their needs."