News that the big gas firms have been overcharging (and undercharging) tens of thousands of customers hit the headlines recently, causing public outrage. Competitive pricing and accurate billing has always been a top priority for customers, so it’s not surprising that news of a mistake of this scale has brought the topic even higher up the public’s agenda.
The slip-up, which has left some households and small businesses overcharged in excess of 130%, was caused by what Ofgem has labelled, ‘human error.’ So what happened? Put simply, it was a basic mistake in gas meter readings. Older imperial meters, which measure energy usage in cubic feet, were being read as though they were more modern metric ones, which register in cubic metres.
It sounds like a straightforward error, but the repercussions were hefty. Some were left grossly overcharged whilst others were undercharged by as much as 65% – and what’s worse, for some energy users this issue has now been going on for as long as 15 years.
Whilst Ofgem and the suppliers involved work to ensure customers are being fully compensated, it raises the question – how can we guarantee that people and businesses across the board aren’t wrongly billed in future? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this, but there are a host of things we can be doing to safeguard against billing inaccuracy.
The first is for customers to submit their own meter readings. Whilst suppliers are required to read and inspect meters at least every two years, if customers don’t provide any interim readings, bills are then based on estimates guided by previous usage. In some instances, this can be highly accurate, but in others it can cause major discrepancies.
Whilst it’s one thing to submit a reading, it’s another to ensure it’s done correctly. At Flogas we try and help make this process as accurate and as straightforward as possible. For example, not everyone will know whether they have an imperial or metric meter, which is why we’re currently updating our bills to show people exactly what they have. We also clearly explain on all our bills how to convert meter readings (imperial or metric) into kWh depending on whether you’re calculating in cubic metres or feet.
But it’s not solely up to the end user to feed in the correct information. This is why we assign all our customers with dedicated account managers who can support them from start to finish. They will manually spot check all invoices before they’re issued, so if anything looks out of the ordinary on a bill, the customer will get a phone call straight away to check what the issue might be.
It’s understandable that the recent news of wide-scale meter reading errors from major gas firms has caused angst and mistrust. People are busy and want to be able to rely on their energy supplier to have the right information and bill the correct amount. Ultimately it’s up to us as suppliers to ensure this happens. With more than 30 years’ experience in providing energy solutions, at Flogas this is very front of mind, and why we focus our efforts on being completely transparent with customers whilst providing a personal start-to-finish service – only then can we guarantee billing accuracy across the board.
MD, Flogas Britain