Friday, June 05, 2009

Energy bills on line

A year or two ago my lovely son who keeps me and my computer living happily together, did some additional sorting out for me, and transferred my energy and telephone accounts to companies who would charge me less. At the same time I opted for on-line billing, because it seemed a good idea to save some paper, and for paying by direct debit.

I don't think this has been altogether a good thing. The mails drop into my inbox announcing that my bill is ready to be read, but because that means going to their website and logging on, and because as it happens I seem to have a different combination of ID and password for each account, and because I can never remember them, and because payment is automatic so I don't risk being cut off ... (draw a deep breath) ... I tend not to bother looking at them.

Yesterday my carelessness came home to roost. I received a letter (a real space, hard copy letter) announcing that my energy suppliers were going to increase my monthly direct debit by £45 a month, as my account was in debt and my present payment was not enough to cover the amount of electricity and gas "we think you are going to use over the next twelve months". Panic! Stereotypical elderly, confused panic: "Help! I can't understand. I want my son. He'll have to come and sort it out for me. Oh-oh-ohhh!"

But then I pulled myself together and decided it was time to get to understand my energy bills, and to check out whether my consumption had really increased, in spite of having cavity wall insulation done in January. I wasted a lot of time noting down the payments I'd been making over the past couple of years, before realising that I should be checking consumption, rather than charges, which we know have gone up substantially here in the UK. And, to my chagrin, it appeared that my consumption had increased over the previous year.

But had it really? I noted that this latest quarterly bill had been based on an estimated reading, and on the strength of this they were also estimating the amount of energy they thought I would use in the coming year. Not good enough. Definitely not good enough. I would have to take readings myself and post them on line. The trouble is that crouching under the stairs where the meters are, is apt to bring on a spell of dizziness nowadays, and I prefer someone else to do it for me. But this was urgent. Needs must when the devil drives, as they say. I discovered that if I let my typing chair down to its lowest level, and wheeled it through to the hall - (or 'walked' it through like a baby walker!) - I could sit at the right level and only have to bend my head slightly to take the readings with a torch. (I wonder if I could have my meters moved? I bet it would cost a bomb.)

I posted my readings on line, and this morning I got an amended bill, knocking off £85 pounds, and withdrawing the notice that they were going to up my monthly direct debit by £45 a month.

I also discovered that my online account details show my average daily consumption of electricity and gas for the billing period, and also the figures for the same period last year, and it does appear to have gone down not up, which is what I was expecting, after having the insulation done.

So I'm really quite chuffed at the end of the day. And I did need to get to understand the billing system for myself. In future, I shall try to do my own readings each quarter and post them on line.


Julie Oakley said...

They make a small fortune from people not having the time to check up on them. Even if they refund the money it's been making interest in their bank account not yours. I'd much prefer it if things were more straightforward like they were in the past, one supplier, one price.

annie said...

Glad you got it figured out, Judith-- you'll be one that they can't take advantage of, now. But as Julie says, too bad it can't be as simple as it once was.

20th Century Woman said...

Judith, I am so so impressed that you managed to take on the system and get the best of it. You are truly tough. Brava!

Jen said...

Gosh I'm impressed! It pays to be a bit of a technogeek then (smile). For me, no sitting down to read the meters. One is placed so high in the hall I can't even read it standing on a chair and have to get my 5'10" teen to do it. The other is in the basement and always has piles of boxes in the way. Typical!

Granny J said...

Oh, I'd hate to have to read my meters! Both are outsid, as is proper and the utility's men come by once a month to take readings. I believe that the gas company is gradually replacing its meters with a gadget that broadcasts a reading directly to a gizmo in the utility man's car so he doesn't even have to write down any info. The electricity person reads his meter, which is on my 2nd floor entrance, with binoculars.

Judith said...

Technogeek? You have to be joking Jen! But then I think you have your tongue in your cheek.

Granny J, you are lucky to get your meters read monthly. That is what was really annoying me about my energy suppliers, who only bill quarterly, that they can't even get a meter reader round that often, it seems.

These days with new building in the UK I think meters are mostly put outside the house, as they should, as you say.
And yes, I got a sniff of these new broadcasting gadgets when I was searching the web for a picture of a meter reader.

duchess said...

I refuse to pay my energy bills by direct debit. I would like to, because that would make life easier for me and they would always get their money on time... But they insist on this system where you spread your bills over the year. What it means in practice is you pay them in advance for energy you haven't yet used. That's true even under your recent victory. I only want to pay them what I owe. They won't do that.

Judith said...

Absolutely, Duchess, it is the direct debit system which creates more possibilities of error, I am sure, not to mention the confusion of mind just trying to read the 4-page bills. I am seriously thinking of going back to four quarterly bills - but it is such a big lump to pay at one go.

I wonder if I set up a new bank account just for paying bills, and made monthly payments into that from my income, and then at least they wouldn't get the use of my money in advance - (although at the present moment I am actually owing them money, so it does cut both ways!)

kapgaf said...

It's the same with all kinds of bills. I really should sit down and look carefully at mine but I don't always. My bank has recently charged me for services that I did not ask for and it was lucky that for once I checked the bill! Good for you sorting it out for yourself and not relying on anyone else.

Avus said...

Well done, Judith. They can get away with murder under the direct debit system if they are not brought to book. They rely on us doing their work for them, then charge us what they think!

Minolta PagePro 6 Cartridge said...

Good thing you figured it out! There are lots of scammers online and they tend to take advantage of online users who get to visit their accounts very often.