Are you being overcharged on household bills?
Filed under: Utilities
In fact, we are overcharged an incredible £6 billion a year on our bills.
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OverchargedResearch from uSwitch.com found that 57% of people have been overcharged at least once on a household bill in the last year, over a quarter were overcharged more than once, and, incredibly, 13% did not get their money back again.
It tends to be us that spots mistakes - the companies are happy to continue overcharging us forever. Some 95% of mistakes are spotted by the bill payer.
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And there are some big sums involved. On average consumers were overcharged by £229, and one in ten were overcharged by more than £500.
Ann Robinson, Director of Consumer Policy at uSwitch.com, says: "There has been an epidemic of overcharging on household bills in the last year and yet we are still potentially looking at the tip of an iceberg. It seems to be down to consumers to spot where they have been overcharged and, with some household bills being so complicated, more instances will undoubtedly have slipped through the net."
Take chargeThe research shows us two valuable things. The first is that it pays to be vigilant. We cannot trust the companies involved to get their sums right, so we need to be checking everything from the meter reading to the charges on our bills.
Robinson says: "People must look at their bills and not take it for granted that a company has got its sums right. I would also urge companies to do right by their customers too and to ensure that their bills are simple, clear and easy to understand. With 95% of overcharging spotted by customers rather than the bill provider, it's imperative that consumers are able to spot and resolve any mistakes quickly."
The second lesson from the figures is that if there is a mistake, it's vital to act quickly, and be committed to getting our money back, because the process of chasing down a company and getting your money back can be horribly tortuous.
On average it takes 58 days to get your money back, and in the last year consumers spent an average of 6 hours and an estimated £22 on phone calls and correspondence trying to sort out overcharging - just 7% were automatically refunded these costs by the company involved.
Meanwhile, for 12% it took between two to six months to get their money back again, some 12% of those overcharged in the last year are still trying to get the issue resolved, while a further 13% never got their money back.
What can you do?If you think you have been overcharged, therefore, it's vital to arm yourself with meter readings, and past bills, then call the customer services number on your bill.
After the initial call you may be asked to make a complaint in writing, and if the company involved refuses to back down you may end up with Ofgem, Ofcom or Ofwat (depending on the bill you are querying). However, the majority of queries can be sorted by talking to customer services, providing your evidence, and then persevering.
It's not an easy process, but it's one that could be worth £6 billion, so it's worth getting stuck in.