Don't let your cash be part of £6bn giveaway

Onus on consumers to spot overcharges on bills and claim refunds, discovers Louise Dransfield

Homeowners are being warned not to rely on companies getting their accounts right after an 'epidemic' of overcharging on household bills totalling over £6bn in the last year.

Despite being in the midst of a recession, about six in 10 consumers (57 per cent) have been overcharged by an average of £229 on at least one household bill in the last year and, incredibly, more than one in 10 did not get their money back, according to new research from uSwitch.com, the price comparison service.

The research highlighted some key consumer gripes such as a fee or charge being applied incorrectly, a requested change to an account not happening – or one happening hasn't been requested. It can be a computer glitch – the recent NatWest/RBS system failure is a case in point – or just a straightforward human error, according to Ann Robinson, director of consumer policy at uSwitch.com.

The main thing is to understand that mistakes, like inaccurate meter readings, happen and that bills and statements must be checked carefully as 95 per cent of those who have been overcharged have themselves spotted the mistake and not the company.

If you pay bills by direct debit, as many do, you have protection in the form of the direct debit guarantee which applies to all banks and building societies, so if there are any changes to the amount, date or frequency of your direct debit you will be notified in advance of your account being debited or as otherwise agreed.

Ofgem, the energy regulator, for example, has in its licence conditions for gas and electricity companies guidelines for fair and reasonable direct debits, so in theory this should make it much easier for consumers to get fair direct debits set and claim refunds where they are due.

But in reality it is likely you will have to go to great lengths to reclaim despite the obvious potential hardship the overcharging can cause. If you do not pay via direct debit, some providers may charge you extra for a late or failed payment. Ofcom, the regulatory body for phone and TV service providers, says these charges must be fair and must also be made clear in your terms and conditions.

Similarly, under the Consumer Credit Act, if you are paying by credit card and the amount is over £150, the credit card company may be jointly liable. Those who have been overcharged have, on average, had to wait almost two months to have money repaid usually involving an average of six hours spent on phone calls and correspondence.

If you spot an issue with your bill or account, Sarah Brooks, director of financial services at Consumer Focus, recommends contacting the firm immediately to resolve the situation. "We would expect any responsible company to investigate fully, make sure that no customer is out of pocket and if necessary compensate for any inconvenience caused," she said.

It is also advisable to check your new bill or statement against an old one to check for extra charges and make a log of every phone call, e-mail or letter related to the issue. Always take the details of the person with whom you are dealing.

In relation to energy companies, Which? advise accepting a refund as credit on your bill, especially in the summer to avoid excessive bills in winter. You can also request a review and reduction of your direct debit.

If the company accepts an error but only offers a refund of the amount overcharged despite your time and effort to resolve the matter, you can ask for a goodwill gesture to compensate. If you reach a stalemate, you can ask for the matter to be referred to the relevant Ombudsman service. The company should provide you with the relevant details to enable you to do this.

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Assistant / Buyer

    £15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers a range of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

    £15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisors are r...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree were established in 1986....

    Recruitment Genius: Compliance Manager

    £40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Compliance Manager is require...

    Day In a Page

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate