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Utility statements top Britain’s most baffling bills

18th November 2013 Print

Electricity bills top the nation’s list of the most baffling bills with 36% of people saying that they find them hard to understand, closely followed by gas and water bills.  While household utility bills head the list of daunting documents, most people find bank and credit card statements the easiest to read and understand:

Document - Hardest to understand (%)

Electricity bill 36
Gas bill 32
Water bill 14
Council tax bill 12
Home insurance renewal 7
Landline/telephone bill 7
Car insurance renewal 5
Mobile phone bill 4
Credit card statement 3
Bank statement 3

The survey of 2,000 UK adults, commissioned by, found that one in ten people don’t understand most of their bills, while 17% tend not to read bills which they find confusing.  Most people (59%) surveyed believe that companies deliberately keep bills unclear.
Companies’ use of technical calculations, jargon and abbreviations contribute to baffling bills.  The main reasons given for not understanding bills were:

complicated calculations (68%)
not understanding the terminology used (36%)
too much information (31%)
language used is confusing or not plain English (29%)
they include too many abbreviations (19%)
When asked if they were able to explain the meaning of different terms and abbreviations used on bills and other financial documents most people felt confident in explaining debt (71%), credit (70%), balance brought forward (64%) and tariff (59%).  But found other commonly used terms such as calorific value, compound interest, APR perplexing:  

Term/abbreviation - Percentage of people able to explain (%)

Volume correction factor 7
Chargeback 17
All risks 20
Indemnity 22
AER (annual equivalent rate) 23
Inclusive allowance 25
Calorific value (CV) 29
Compound interest 30
Kilowatt hours 32
Recommended repairer 37
Vatable charges 37
Economy 7 37
Units 42
Excess 50
APR (annual percentage rate) 51
Credit score 52
Dual fuel 53
Net 53
Standing charge 58
Gross 58

Claire Peate,’s customer insight manager, commented: “Bank and credit card statements, household bills and insurance renewal documents aren’t riveting reading and are often criticised for being overly complicated.  But, it’s important that you take the time to understand them because collectively they provide essential information to help you manage your finances, helping you balance what you earn against what you owe.
“As well as giving you an overview of your finances, it’s important to read through these documents to check for overpayments, changes to terms and conditions, errors or omissions.  For example, many people pay energy bills by direct debit and it’s not unusual to overpay during the summer months to offset higher winter bills.  But, often the level of direct debit payment is on the generous side and many people build up a surplus.  These overpayments will be shown on energy bills as credits and customers are entitled to ask for their money back.”
To help people make sense of their energy bills and other financial documents, has produced a range of guides and glossaries which explains commonly terms and abbreviations, as well providing tips to save money: