New energy statements are failing consumers

Energy statements are failing consumers

New annual energy statements are failing consumers despite their pivotal role in Ofgem's plans to boost a competitive market, a survey suggests.

Just 37 per cent of households claim to have received an annual statement, introduced last year under compulsory new rules by the regulator to help consumers secure the best energy deal, the poll for comparison website uSwitch found.

It found 56 per cent have either not received a statement from their supplier or have failed to recognise that they have had one, while 36 per cent of recipients said their statement was clearly labelled and 39 per cent found the information useful.

All households were to receive an annual statement by December 1 last year depending on their supplier's billing cycle. The statement details each household's current energy plan, yearly consumption and predicted bill, any discounts that are available and advice on how to change supplier.

But uSwitch said the survey highlighted potential design or layout flaws that could be making it difficult for customers to identify an annual statement and to use the information to make informed choices, as Ofgem had intended.

The poll found 16 per cent of recipients found their statement confusing and 7 per cent found the information they wanted difficult to find.

uSwitch director of consumer policy Ann Robinson said the annual statements are a “linchpin of Ofgem's push to get the competitive energy market working properly, but consumers clearly don't think they are coming up to scratch”.

"The vast majority of households will have received an annual statement by now but only 37 per cent recognise that they have done so. The statements appear to be poorly labelled, difficult to understand and do not stand out from ordinary energy bills.

"As far as consumers are concerned, annual statements as they currently stand are not fit for purpose," Robinson said.

Plain English Campaign spokeswoman Marie Clair said annual energy statements are “confusing and inconsistent”. Suppliers have fallen into the trap of using language that is familiar to them but unclear and often meaningless to the consumer, she said.

“There needs to be consistency in the way suppliers present the information and the language they use. Common sense would suggest that the best bits are taken from all the suppliers and pulled into one standard format adopted by all. This would really benefit consumers and turn annual statements into a meaningful and useful piece of communication,” Clair said.

Energy UK, which represents suppliers, said the initiative had been a "huge undertaking".

"The industry has worked hard to send the new statements to all of its customers. With 26 million homes in the UK this has been a huge undertaking. Those who have not yet received their annual statements should get them soon,” a spokesman for Energy UK said.

“These statements provide information which will help people decide whether they are getting the deal that is best for them.

“However, this is just one of the ways in which energy companies provide key information to their customers. You can pick up the phone to talk through what offers they may have, as well as looking around to see what deals may be available from other suppliers.

“The UK has one of the most competitive energy markets in the world, indeed 100,000 people switch for a better deal every week. Energy companies are always looking at ways to improve the information they give to their customers, and annual statements are one part of this," the spokesman said.

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