Earlier this year, an energy supplier overcharged almost four million households, amounting to nearly £300 million in excess fees.1 Bill errors such as these are very common and certainly not limited to energy suppliers. Mobile, internet, credit cards — each of these has room for error that could cost you a sizable amount over time. The errors could be the result of miscalculations or simple human error, or they could be part of a bigger problem. How do you uncover the difference between your typical fees and errors? Here are some tips to help you decipher the things you should and shouldn’t be paying.
Check the dates. Because most billing is automated, overlapping charges can be a big problem with billing cycles that do not line up with the first or last of the month, but with the date you initiated the service. Make sure the date range for that statement coincides with the end range date on your last statement to avoid paying twice for the service you received.
Make sure your move doesn’t cost you more than it needs to. Moving is expensive on its own, but add that in with paying utilities on two flats and you are haemorrhaging money! When you move, confirm that you have turned the service off at your old place and double check they have your new address correct. Even the slightest error in your information can lead to you getting charged for someone else’s usage.
Do the math. If there is some sort of calculation, like metered usage of electricity or multiple line items, double-check the math. It may seem tedious, but that is the easiest spot for billing errors to surface.
Note and anticipate irregular behaviour. When the weather peaks in a certain direction or your living patterns change, your utilities bills are probably significantly different. When your children have a break in school during the summer, they’re home more using electricity, in addition to the cool air pumping throughout the house. You can anticipate big fluctuations like these. But what if you see big swings in your utility usage during quiet, mild weather times like October and May? That may be the sign of a bigger problem. Check your meter for accuracy or contact your supplier and request an investigation.
Don’t let “free” fool you. Many apps or games are free, but there are some that require a subscription or member fee in order to use them. There are also cases of “cramming”; when a third-party company (someone outside of your cellular provider) charges small fees through your regular phone bill. Make sure all of the charges were initiated by you. If not, contact your service provider for help.
Don’t let default settings cost you. Roaming and data usage are usual fees associated with owning a mobile. However, there are some situations where the fee assessed can be disputed. For example, some operating system updates will default certain features to “on,” burning through your data.
Take a minute to review your minutes. Do you actually use all your data or text messages every month? While this isn’t a common billing error, it is an error in our habits. While you’re taking the time to look at your statements, review your usage and consider downgrading to a smaller package if it fits your lifestyle. Don’t pay for what you don’t need.
Check for opt-in options. Sometimes when you get a new mobile, you are automatically opted-in for additional services like insurance (when in fact, the company that manufactures your mobile might already cover those things). Make sure you contact your cellular provider to clarify when you sign up.
One and done is not fun. When you sign up for cable and/or internet, the providers like to get you on the hook with a too-good-to-be-true type of deal that lasts for the first year. After your promotional rate is over, your bill can sometimes double, even triple without the discount. What’s worse? We usually forget about and don’t see it coming. Instead, we’re left with the same service at a much higher cost. When you initiate a new contract, make a note 11 months from then to follow up and see if you can extend the deal another year or more. Many providers will find an alternative offer to retain you as a customer.
Bundling isn’t always better. Service providers will sometimes offer bundling as one of their promotional options when you sign up. Similarly to the one-year initiation deal, the bundle pricing can change after a year. However, it can be tougher to spot because the prices will go up individually and tends to be more spread out, making it less noticeable if you’re not keeping a close eye on it.
New service, new fees. When you initiate a new service plan with cable companies, oftentimes they want to charge you for installation, equipment, labour for the technician and an annual fee. Don’t let them get away with these useless add-ons. Challenge them to include complimentary service as part of your new customer package.
1Evans, T. (8 June 2016). Four million overcharged due to energy billing errors. Retrieved 23 September 2016, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/bills-and-utilities/gas-electric/four-million-overcharged-due-to-energy-billing-errors/