Three-quarters of consumers are confused by their energy bills, with a lack of clarity adding to the stress of opening them, a survey by Which? has found.
Clearer communication from suppliers could help to reduce bill anxiety, the watchdog said, after a poll found that 48% of consumers have a negative emotional response when reading them, 47% find it stressful and 49% felt anxious over the longer term.
One 44-year-old bill-payer from London told the consumer group: “The energy bills … just generally they are a nightmare. Like the kilowatts per hour, whatever they’re measuring, it’s just like, ‘Wow, oh my God, where do they come up with all this stuff?’ So yes, I find it a nightmare.”
Which? said it was important that customers understood what they were being asked to pay and why so they could balance their budgets and feel confident their bills were accurate.
Which?’s letter contained key features to make it easier to understand, such as simple language, clearly explaining why the direct debit amount needed to change and using a personalised graph of the consumer’s energy usage.
Almost half of consumers (45%) who received the Which? letter answered a set of comprehension questions correctly compared with 27% of those who saw the control letter.
Almost two-thirds (65%) of those who received the Which? letter understood why their direct debit needed to change, compared with 48% of those who saw existing letters.
Of the consumers who found the messages from their provider easy to understand, just over four in 10 (41%) reported finding their energy bills stressful.
This almost doubled to seven in 10 (70%) for those who said their letters were difficult to understand.
Almost three-quarters of consumers (74%) who found their bills unclear said they did not trust their supplier, compared with three in 10 (30%) who found their bills clear.
Which? director of policy and advocacy Rocio Concha 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.”
Yonder surveyed 2,082 UK adults in January.