I lead a rather nomadic lifestyle with my family living in Burnley, Lancashire but my workplace being in Port Glasgow, Scotland. I usually leave Burnley early (too early!!!) on a Monday morning, and return on a Friday evening. During the week I rent a flat, and that’s where the story starts…….
I recently moved in to a small studio apartment (which my wife pleasantly refers to as my ‘hovel’ – it’s not that bad, honest). One of my first actions was to get the gas and electricity changed over to my name and set up a direct debit. Lazily, I simply contacted the same supplier as the previous tenant had used. I should have researched my options I know, but I took the easier, less hassle route I’m afraid.
Armed with my gas and electric meter readings I rang the supplier, and explained that I had just moved into the apartment. After giving my meter readings, I was asked if I wanted to set up a direct debit. Yes. It was then suggested that I inherit the same monthly direct debit amount as the previous occupant, precisely £81.50 per month.
I explained my nomadic lifestyle, and that I would not be using a washing machine (let me explain before you get the wrong idea – I take my washing back down south with me on a Friday), and hardly use the cooker (microwave available, and not much fun cooking for one). A few questions later and a suggestion of £30.00 per month. That’s more like it!
Around 2 months later and my first bill dropped through the letter box. Acknowledging my first payment of £30, but then a big black box in the middle of the statement shouted out the message in a large font that I was a massive £170.30 in debit!!
Straightaway it was obvious, this was an ESTIMATED BILL with no reference to reality and no consideration at all to my initial phone call. They had blindly used the same usage rate as the previous tenant.
After writing down my current meter readings I was straight on the phone and sorted it out, with a subsequent re-bill of just £31.28. But what if that bill had been opened by a more vulnerable person than me? It could have caused a considerable scare and a lot of unnecessary worry. Perhaps even to the extent of switching their heating off. You read of such stories.
However, it can also work in reverse; a low monthly direct debit that doesn’t keep pace with your usage. This can give a household a false sense of security, resulting in energy customers with too lower estimated bills racking up debts of hundreds of pounds without realising it.
According to Citizens Advice, in the worst cases people have found they owed over £1,000 when they thought their direct debits were covering their energy costs.
One piece of advice I would give – DO NOT rely on estimated bills. Please regularly take a note of your gas and electricity meter readings and pass them on to your energy provider. They can then bill you accurately for ACTUAL use.
Oh, and by the way, when my first bill arrived I noted that the tariff I was on was designed for ‘Age Concern and Help the Aged’. I know I have grey hair and a few laughter- lines (ok, wrinkles), but I thought that the tariff description was a little harsh.
Posted by: Mark Robinson