What should you do if you receive an energy bill that's so large it can't possibly be right?
Well, that was the subject television journalist Dominic Littlewood explored in the latest episode of his consumer affairs programme 'Don't Get Done Get Dom', broadcast on BBC One last Friday (26th April) - and he called on our managing director Jonathan Elliott to offer some expert advice on the matter.
Littlewood, who came to prominence as the presenter of Channel 4's 'Faking It', was investigating the case of a woman who received a bill for £2,001.25 from Atlantic Electric, a subsidiary of the Big Six supplier Scottish and Southern Electric (also known as SSE). The bill, issued in March 2009, set alarm bells ringing because it was for nearly ten times the amount the customer would usually pay.
If you've established in your own mind that the bill is not correct, get in contact with the supplier - they're obliged to send out an independent electrical contractor to assess your meter.
The customer insisted there was no way she could have consumed this amount of electricity and felt the high bill may have had something to do with a power surge she knew she had experienced at her home during the billing period.
The supplier, reasonably enough, issued a bill according to the consumption recorded on the meter but, as Littlewood established, sometimes a payment dispute arises because there is a disparity between this information and what the customer believes they are actually using.
So what should energy customers do if this happens?
Jonathan advised that the first thing they should do is make sure they've got their facts right:
"Before you call the supplier to challenge it [your bill] I'd advise you just to take a look at what you're using on your meter on a daily basis - over a couple of days - and just see if that sort of matches with the consumption that the supplier is saying you've used."
Then, if you've established in your own mind that the bill is not correct, get in contact with the supplier: "They're obliged," said Jonathan, "to send someone out who's independent - from the National Measurement Office. That independent electrical contractor will come and check your meter and assess whether it's correct or incorrect."
If a dispute with your supplier continues after you've established a problem with your meter, Jonathan suggested taking up the issue with Consumer Direct or the Energy Ombudsman, who will then pursue it on your behalf.
Jonathan also suggested an energy monitor as a way of ensuring your usage tallies with what's on your bill. This easy-to-install table-top device tells you "exactly how much energy you are using at any moment in time in your house."
Finally, Jonathan echoed Littlewood's hope that inaccurate billing should soon become a thing of the past with the advent of smart meters, which every home and business should have by the year 2020. This will mean live meter information is sent straight to the supplier, so estimated billing will no longer be necessary and unusual peaks in consumption will be easier to detect.
Until then, there needs to be an element of diligence from customers to make sure their bill is making sense and that meter readings are up to date. And while they're at it, they should check to see if they're on the supplier's standard tariff, too - because if they are, their bills could be significantly cheaper.
Kevin is the Brand Communications Manager at Make It Cheaper, so he makes sure people know who we are, what we do and how we do it. He's from a family of small business owners (his dad runs a chippy, mum a dancing school, uncle a scaffolding company, auntie a fancy dress shop), so he's passionate about making it easier for customers to run their businesses. He spends lots of his time making our letters and emails easy to understand, nice to look at and a pleasure to read. You can email Kevin at firstname.lastname@example.org
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