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Simon Read: Over-priced and over-charging - energy firms face fresh accusations


There have been several warnings about rising energy bills this week. On Monday concerns were raised that heating bills could jump by as much as £200 over the next year as a result of continuing gas shortages.

By Wednesday it was reported that the average household energy bill for March will be £80 higher than in previous years, as the cold spell forces people to keep their heating switched on.

So hard-pressed people have been hit on two sides: gas shortgages and the terrible weather we've experienced lately (snow in March!).

But there's a third menace which has led to shock bills arriving on people's doorsteps. That's the energy suppliers themselves, which have consistently made bill cock-ups by overcharging or even undercharging and then landing unsuspecting consumers with a massive bill to catch up on overdue amounts.

In fact a quarter of households have been billed incorrectly by their energy company within the last two years, according to a survey published by uSwitch this week.

Even more concerning is the statistic that 13 per cent of households say it has happened more than once. More than a third of households – around 9.6 million – have unexpectedly owed money to their energy supplier following a discrepancy between an estimated bill and "real" bill.

The average amount owed following a billing discrepancy is £154, so it's not a matter of just being a few pennies. The results have meant energy companies being voted among the top two worst organisations for getting bills wrong. In the last year they've only been outdone by HM Revenue and Customs, which has struggled to cope with a series of computer mix-ups that affected millions.

Most of the energy firms offer monitors which measure the amount of energy being used in your home. The theory is that you will turn things off when you see how much energy is being wasted.

But an independent company has taken that a stage further by offering a monitor that tracks exactly how much energy you use, when you use it and how much it costs on your current tariff. Then, and here's the real kicker, the £30 device – known as Loop – compares the cost of your energy usage with other energy providers so you can seen if you would be better off switching.

At a stroke it appears to solve two of the main problems with energy suppliers. First is the problem of finding the best tariff – which it works out based on your actual energy usage.

But it also monitors how much you're spending, so that when you get a bill, you'll know at once if it's wrong.

Until energy firms get their own act together, the device could be a real help in getting control of energy costs. You can find out how it works by going to www.your-loop.com