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Last Updated: Friday, 15 February 2008, 14:18 GMT
Have Your Say: energy bills
Gas meter

E.ON is the latest energy supplier to put its prices up. Electricity prices will rise by 9.7% and gas by 15%, following similar big rises this year by four of its rivals.

Most customers will see the increase introduced part way through their quarterly bill, but how easy are these bills to understand when there has been a change in prices?

Do you find it easy is to understand your energy bills or should they be made clearer?

Should any price changes start immediately or at the beginning of the new billing cycle?

Would you welcome the introduction of the new "smart meters" for measuring gas and electricity consumption?

We asked for your comments, a selection of which are below. The debate is now closed.

I received details of the latest price increase from EDF and despite the press release quoting 12.9% and 8.9%, my online dual fuel consumption cost paid by direct debit will increase by 28.9% and 21%. This is despite the fact that online dual fuel customers did not receive the price decrease last year. However new customers paying the same way will save around 20% on the amount I will be charged. More regulation of energy companies and more transparency is needed.

A meter reader had taken our electricity readings...Imagine my surprise when the bill arrived showing an estimated reading
Npower informed me of its 5 January 2008 price rise on 22 January. I had noted previously that a meter reader had taken our electricity readings around about 7 January and so had I. Imagine my surprise when the bill arrived showing an estimated reading - not just estimated but a very low estimate of about a third of the units I had actually used. I phoned in my retained early January readings and sent a letter complaining of the insertion of low estimates. I have just received an amended bill using my phoned-in customer readings. OK for me, but how many people are paying Npower an extra 50 without realising it? It's a scandal!

I heard about E.ON increasing their prices last Friday and checked them yesterday. To my astonishment the price rises would have increased my last electricity / gas bill by 48%. The headline rates are inaccurate. There has been a very significant increase in primary rates and thresholds. The good news having compared other E.ON plans I have switched plans - my new tariff would have saved me 8 on my last quarterly bill and will mean I avoid an increase of 139 on my next bill. The message is check your bill and do it now.
James Gerada

How can I now record a meter reading on the date of change of price when the letter is received after the event?
Mike Rawlings
I received notification from Npower by letter dated January 2008 but received on 22 January indicating the price increase of gas and electricity effective from 5 January. How can I now record a meter reading on the date of change of price when the letter is received after the event? It is either mismanagement or a deliberate ploy to make it possible for inaccurate values to be used to calculate bills in their favour.
Mike Rawlings

Before privatisation any increase or decrease in electricity prices was effective from the time that the meter man called on his regular quarterly visit - what could be fairer than that? I am currently awaiting in trepidation for the true increase in my electricity charges from E.ON rather than the 9.7 % that the company has announced. All recent changes in the price of units I am charged have been for substantially more than the averages quoted in the press, except of course for the one decrease which was announced at 5% but my units were only reduced by just 0.5% for day units and 0.4% for night units.
John Breckon

To avoid estimations or over billing I just simply read my meter on the day of the change and sent them on to my suppliers. If everyone did that I wonder what headache it would cause the firms? I feel that these immediate rises are out of order and there should be at least a month's notice to any tariff change so that you can react accordingly.

The answer is to read the meter oneself on the day and compare it with the supplier's estimate.
Chris Grey
All customers should have their prices changed from the same date, which means inevitably that most will be affected during a billing period. As your contributor explained, the problem then lies with the accuracy of the supplier's estimated reading at the date of change. The answer is to read the meter oneself on the day and compare it with the supplier's estimate. Then either calculate the overpayment or write to the supplier asking them to do so.
Chris Grey

Last year we moved into our home which has no gas and I was worried about the cost of running a home on electricity so made a spreadsheet and took meter readings daily. When my quarterly bill arrived, I noticed that we had been overcharged and that I had been charged at the new price for the whole quarter. I challenged Southern Electric who admitted this and reimbursed me for the whole quarter. I also challenged them on behalf of my elderly neighbours and succeeded in getting a refund for them. My argument was that they could not and did not know my meter reading and so should not charge me the extra.
Brian Green

I cannot make head or tail of my bill
Bob Oliver
I cannot make head or tail of my bill especially the gas calculator where they keep changing the calorific values. I believe changes should start from the beginning of the next billing period to avoid confusion. This is the latest rise from E.ON nee Powergen, where I have seen my monthly debit rise from 60 at the start of 2007 to 100 by year end. Why is there no campaign against these rises and what is the government doing about it? We had years of prices going down but it seems since the market contracted those left are using the lack of choice / difficulty in moving to hike the prices.
Bob Oliver

I switched to Powergen a few years ago and found it completely impossible to match their bills with the terms of my contract because their bills omitted a lot of the data needed for pricing (such as start and end date of the billing period). When I complained I got nowhere. After six months I switched again to a supplier whose bills I do understand.

I read my meters on the 17th of the relevant month each quarter, as the bill is due on the 19th, and submit them online. The meter reader turns up on the 23rd of the month, by which time not only have I received the bill online , but I have paid it as well through telephone banking!
Gareth Price

I had a pleasant but rather bizarre conversation with British Gas in that I don't think they quite understood my complaint
Anthony Taylor
I have just received a quarterly bill from British Gas including a price increase on 18 January. Under my tariff, the first 1002 kwhs in the period are charged at about double the price of subsequent kwhs. After 18 January I am being charged at a new higher rate for the first 88kwhs which again is slightly more than double the new increased price of subsequent units. It appears to me that as I have already been charged extra for the first 1002kwhs before the price increase, I should not be charged for another tranche of higher rate units in the same charging period. I had a pleasant but rather bizarre conversation with British Gas in that I don't think they quite understood my complaint, and I was quite bewildered by her justification of this method of calculating my bill. The effect on my bill will only be a few pounds, but what if you consider the vast number of British Gas customers?
Anthony Taylor

Utility bills are far from easy to understand if 'mid quarter' price changes are involved. Smart meters should be installed without delay with a wireless link to a multifunction display inside the house. They should be 'export' capable for those who 'micro generate' their own power and power companies should be 'obliged' to buy (or store and return), this surplus at a fair price. There needs to be total transparency between wholesale and retail pricing.
Clive Douglas

We need total transparency from the energy companies. I say nationalise the energy companies and stop feeding the "fat cat" pockets.

Price changes should be at the same time for everyone - not linked to the billing cycle
Martin Redfern
I've never had a major problem with understanding energy bills. The usual curses of "estimated" readings and tariff changes during the billing period are manageable. Price changes should be at the same time for everyone - not linked to the billing cycle - otherwise there will be complaints from those who just miss out on the next rate drop. The good things about smart meters are (a) the elimination of estimated readings and (b) clearer indications of energy usage (and its cost?), especially as the meter's display is in an easily viewable location. However, if the rate changes during the day, and from day-to-day how will this be captured clearly in statements - or won't it even be stated? There's potential here for more billing muddle. Will the smart meters have control outputs for low priority loads (like fridges, freezers or washing machines) to lop brief demand peaks in return for a beneficial tariff, i.e. a smarter form of off-peak tariff? If not, then this massive metering upgrade will have missed a major opportunity.
Martin Redfern

Glad to hear that smart meters are arriving. At present the Scottish Power meter reader comes and reads the meters at our chapel and Sunday School building. A week later we receive an estimated bill from Scottish Power. Perhaps smart meters might result in smart bills.
Dr DL James, Weston Rhyn, Oswestry

Not the end of the world, but a slightly more user-friendly letter would be appreciated
Penny, Guildford
I have had a letter from my energy supplier regarding increased prices for gas and electricity. Only the new prices per kWh used are given, so I've had to refer back to a previous bill to work out the percentage increase I need to budget for. This is complicated however by the fact that the company charges one rate for the first x kwhs used each quarter, and a lower rate for all other kHz used, and I have noticed in looking back at my previous bill that the number of KWh to which the higher rate applies (i.e. the first x kHz used) has been increased, thereby also increasing the bill. This makes it very hard to work out the actual percentage increase I will have to pay overall. Not the end of the world, but a slightly more user-friendly letter would be appreciated.
Penny, Guildford

I think it is scandalous that energy companies should be allowed to "guess" the meter readings when they increase prices. No other service is allowed to. I have raised this point with my energy supplier, but my comments have been ignored. The meter should be read before any price increase can be implemented or internet and telephoned readings accepted and used. I wish you luck and I hope you can get enough public opinion behind you to get the system changed
Derek Marshall, Birmingham

When they change rates, my energy supplier lets us know in advance the date of change and invites us to send in a meter reading for that day. Surely this is fairer. Presumably if they suspect an inaccurate reading they would then send out a meter reader to check.
Sylvia Teteris, London

I am sure most customers do not check that carefully
John, Cambridge

It does not matter when price changes take effect, so long as they are consistent. When prices went up, my last supplier billed me pro-rata from the date the prices changed. When prices went down they only took effect after the next bill (and this was only communicated in very small print). Further, the date of the price fall was different for gas and electricity - so no customer could be the full benefit of both price falls from the date of the change. When the price went up, I carefully called in a meter reading the day before the change. When the bill for that reading arrived, it was dated around a week after the price rise - so some of the fuel consumed before the price rise was changed at the higher rate. On querying this it was corrected, but I am sure most customers do not check that carefully.
John, Cambridge

I have just received a revised monthly payment - 36% higher than last year at 75 a month. They had calculated the future payment on the basis of how much electricity I was using over the winter - this seemed wrong. I rang to query this, they did a recalculation and immediately reduced my monthly bill by 10 to 65, without any further explanation. How many people have received bills like this? Surely this is wrong - if I had not queried the amount, I would have paid another 120 pounds during the next year - which is a lot of money.
Colin Morgan, Warrington

It seems to me that these companies make no real attempt to read the meters
Nigel Chaloner, Hove
I switched to an alternative electricity and gas supplier a while back. Since then, I have had cards through the door from a company with whom I have no contract telling me that I was not at home to allow them to read my meter. I was home and the meters are outside anyway. I then receive letters telling me that the meter has not been read in quite a while and so I should send them a reading. Having looked at the meters they seem designed to convey information in some alien notation system. It seems to me that these companies make no real attempt to read the meters. Another cost saving no doubt.
Nigel Chaloner, Hove

I used to write energy billing software for a living. When a price change occurs, there is no excuse for the supplier not to generate an accurate estimated read for the price change date. This needs to take account of the "annual profile" of the property - or at least the type of property - which says how much on average the property consumes each month. This is what will have confused your maths graduate: it sounds like his supplier was doing exactly the right thing and the earlier period of his bill was in a winter month.
Kit, Farnham

The comments we publish are not necessarily the views of the BBC but will reflect the balance of views we have received. It is helpful if contributors state if they work for any organisation relevant to an issue discussed. Readers should form their own views on whether messages published represent undeclared interests, or views prompted by a common source.

Money Box



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External internet links
08 Feb 08 |  Moneybox
Homes in line for 'smart meters'
07 Feb 08 |  Tayside and Central
E.On to lift UK gas prices by 15%
07 Feb 08 |  Business
Q&A: Switching energy suppliers
18 Jan 08 |  Business

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