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Three quarters of households confused by energy bills

Written by: Rebecca Goodman
Millions of households feel stressed and anxious when it comes to energy bills, with 76% finding them confusing.

Half of energy customers said they have a negative emotional response to reading an energy bill and 47% find it stressful.

Just under half also said reading their energy bill makes them feel anxious, according to data from Which?.

This comes as energy bills have soared in the last year while Government support for these bills has now come to an end.

Despite energy bills starting to fall, they are still significantly more than they were previously. In July average bills are due to fall to £2,074 under the regulator Ofgem’s price cap. Yet in the winter of 2020/21 prices were capped at £1,042.

Simple language and personalised energy graphs

The consumer group tested how well individuals understood their energy bills by sending out its own version of an energy bill to 2,000 people. The test it sent out used a few key features to make the energy bill easier to understand.

This included using simple language, clearly explaining why the direct debit amount needed to change, and a personalised graph of the billpayer’s energy usage.

This test message from Which? was sent out alongside a fake message from an energy company, based on actual emails and letters being sent by energy providers.

It found 45% of people who received the Which? version were then able to answer a series of questions on their energy usage correctly, compared to 27% of those receiving the mock message from an energy provider.

Two thirds (65%) of people with the Which? version also said they understood why their direct debit was changing, compared to 48% of those seeing the energy provider’s version.

Those who didn’t receive an explanation as to why a direct debit was changing were more likely to challenge it (38%), compared to 28% of those receiving the Which? version which included an explanation of why the bill was changing.

Four in 10 of those asked by Which? also said they found their energy bills stressful, with this figure rising to 70% by those who found letters and emails from their provider difficult to understand. Three quarters of people who told the consumer group they found their bills unclear also said they did not trust their energy provider, compared to 30% of those who did find their bills clear.

‘How energy firms communicate really matters’

The group is now calling on energy firms to improve their communications with customers by including clear explanations of why and how a direct debit might change, a personalised energy graph, and simple, clear language throughout.

Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, said: “Our research has found that how energy firms communicate with their customers really matters – and can completely change how people feel about both their bill and their provider.

“Changes such as using simple language and clearly explaining why direct debits are changing could help to reduce consumer’s stress and anxiety when reading their bills, improve trust in energy companies and reduce customer queries.

“Which? is calling on energy providers to take this opportunity to make their bills as clear and simple as possible.”

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