One-third of Irish consumers (30%) claim to have been overcharged for at least one of their household essentials last year, according to new research from independent price comparison and switching service, Switcher.ie. This suggests that Irish households may have been overcharged by millions of euro last year.
The average amount overcharged was €53, and consumers also on average had to wait over five weeks to get their money back again. Home phone customers had to wait an even longer 6.5 weeks to get their money back, while electricity and broadband customers typically had to wait 5 weeks on average.
Household suppliers also varied significantly in their ability to turn a refund around within a week of being alerted to overcharging. Broadband companies were the least responsive, with just one in ten customers (11%) receiving a refund within a week, compared to a quarter (23%) of electricity customers – although some of these delays could be down to refunds being included in the next billing cycle.
Worryingly, the level of overcharging uncovered could just be the tip of the iceberg, with many consumers admitting to not understanding their bills enough to be able to uncover an error, or simply not checking. In fact, 37% of Irish consumers aren’t sure if they were overcharged or not in the last year, while over half of energy (57%), broadband (53%) and mobile phone (51%) customers admit to simply trusting their suppliers to get their bills right.
Many feel they don’t have a choice but to trust their suppliers. A third of energy customers (34%) say there is too much jargon on their bills, with 29% of broadband customers echoing this sentiment.
Overall, 32% of Irish electricity customers say their bills are too complicated, while 27% of electricity and 24% of broadband customers say they can’t find the information they are looking for. Meanwhile. one in three energy customers (34%) can’t identify billing errors. Such is the complexity that six in ten consumers (58%) claim to find at least one household bill difficult to understand.
Energy bills appear to cause the most confusion – one in four (23%) say they find these hard to understand. These findings chime with a recent report from the Commission for Energy Regulation which showed that, of all the complex complaints it received in 2016, 64% of those about electricity suppliers, and 72% about gas suppliers, related to billing issues.
In fact, less than half of energy consumers (49%) even check to see if their bill is correct, with four in ten (38%) just looking at the total amount due. Only 14% use their energy bills to compare deals and switch – a figure which tallies with the overall energy switching levels in the market.
While over-complicated bills leave consumers vulnerable to overpaying, with errors going unnoticed, confusing bills can also be a real barrier to engaging in the market, as consumers are put off comparing offers because they find it too difficult to understand what they’re currently being charged.
Eoin Clarke, Managing Director of Switcher.ie, said: “Households are already paying thousands a year on household essentials, so consumers simply can’t afford to pay extra because of errors, or to wait weeks for a refund because they’ve been overcharged.
“A large percentage of people say their bills are too complicated, which puts them in the vulnerable position of having to trust their suppliers to get it right. Aside from the risk of overcharging, complicated bills are a huge barrier in preventing consumers from engaging in the utility market.This could mean they’re missing out on opportunities to save by changing their usage habits, or by switching to a better deal.
“Energy bills seem to cause consumers the most confusion, with many people saying they only look at the total amount due. This could mean that consumers are missing important information on their bills, including when a discounted tariff ends, or if their bill was estimated. The danger here is that a series of estimated bills could leave households at risk of significant debt if the estimates are out of line with real usage.
“Over the last few years, suppliers have made a real effort to provide their customers with helpful information on how to read their bills, and what the various charges mean for them, so there are great resources out there for anyone that is struggling to understand their bills. If you are one of the many consumers who is confused about items on your household bills, don’t be afraid to ask your supplier as they’ll be more than happy to help you. Getting a handle on the information in your bills will help you to be confident that your bills are correct, allow you to take control of your spending, and help you to save money in the long-run.”
For more information, visit Switcher.ie