TONY HAZELL: Monthly bills can help keep energy costs under control… so why are some energy firms refusing to send them?
Many households will have little idea how much money they are spending on energy this winter because suppliers won’t send monthly bills.
A year ago, I was shunted to EDF when my provider went bust. In that time, I have received only one bill. My 95-year-old mother-in-law is in the same position.
And, like millions of others, she has no clue whether her account is in credit or debit. Misleadingly, it shows online that she is hundreds of pounds in credit because the supplier adds your monthly payments but doesn’t deduct from this total what you’ve used.
Failing customers: Regulator Ofgem’s code of practice demands accurate billing based on the correct tariffs, but nowhere does it specify a minimum frequency of bills
Several other major providers also send bills to some customers only once every six months.
That may have been fine when prices were stable but now it risks leaving people too scared to turn on the heating or unwittingly building up massive debts.
Even if October’s 80 per cent price rise is scrapped or reduced by Prime Minister Liz Truss, householders will still be paying 54 per cent more than last winter, following April’s price cap increase.
Currently, EDF’s useless app tells me I am £585 in credit. Having done the sums, I know that I’m £239 in credit — a difference of £346. Similarly, my mother-in-law is being informed that her account is up £748.
Now, just imagine what will happen in winter as people are merrily told they are in credit because their actual energy use has not been applied to their bill.
Regulator Ofgem’s code of practice demands accurate billing based on the correct tariffs, but nowhere does it specify a minimum frequency of bills.
Surely, if householders are to be in control, they must know exactly where they stand. This must mean receiving monthly bills.
Ofgem and the energy companies need to sort this out now.
The simplest way to reduce energy use is to abandon the move to GMT next month and put the clocks forward another hour next spring.
After analysing three years of data, Shell Energy claimed moving the clocks back led to an 18.7 per cent increase in energy consumption.
And, in 2010, Parliament’s energy and climate change committee said abandoning the clock change would save around £100 million in household lighting bills alone. Today, that figure would be much higher.
Our attitude to energy must change, too. Retailers can’t complain about bills while they leave their doors wide open, blasting out air conditioning or heating.
Last winter, I screamed at the TV as I watched people wearing shorts and T-shirts being interviewed about rising heating bills.
Meanwhile, I’ve compared my energy use with that of my brother-in-law and I reckon my solar panels are saving me more than £800 a year — or £1,500 a year if October’s price hike goes ahead.
At an initial outlay of around £5,200, they are proving to be one of my best investments.
Care on conduct
I note that Liz Truss has the financial regulators in her sights. The Financial Conduct Authority has made a mess of many things but we should never forget how awful its predecessors were.
The old Financial Services Authority spent a decade navel-gazing as endowment policies were sold based on commission and lies, banks flogged investment bonds which crashed in value and payment protection insurance was sold to millions who didn’t need it.
It was so obsessed with protecting the reputation of banks and insurance companies that consumers were hung out to dry.
The FCA is far from perfect, but we must be careful what we wish for.
Finally, here’s a radical idea for the new Prime Minister: pull a leaf from Margaret Thatcher’s book and offer tax relief to pensioners on private medical insurance.
This would provide a great incentive for older people to buy cover to fund hip replacements and the like. A move like this may just ease the pressure on the NHS.