Direct Debit Fears Could Cost Consumers £33.5 Million
on: August 21, 2009, 6:47 am
Ofgem is being urged to act quickly
to stem the flow of consumers ditching direct debits and opting
to pay energy bills by cash or cheque instead. New data from uSwitch.com,
the independent price comparison and switching service, shows
a 7.3% drop in the number of switchers paying by fixed monthly
direct debit, falling from 92% a year ago to 85.3% today. Across
the market it could mean 342,000 households less a year taking
up the option and losing out on discounts totalling £33.5 million
as a result.
According to Ofgem, over 40% of
customers pay their energy bills by direct debit. Not only is
this payment method convenient, but it is cheaper too as suppliers
give discounts to customers paying in this way. These amount to
£98 a year on average. The impact on household bills is noticeable
- while the average household energy bill for a customer on a
standard plan paying by cash or cheque is £1,239, this drops to
£1,141 on average for those paying by direct debit.
More importantly, paying by direct
debit is the gateway to suppliers' cheapest tariffs - these can
be found on their online energy plans. To get them, consumers
need to pay by direct debit. The average household energy bill
for an online customer is £1,021 - £218 cheaper than for a customer
on a standard plan paying by cash or cheque.
But despite the cost implications,
consumers are starting to shun direct debits. According to uSwitch.com
this stems back to last year's 42% or £381 price hikes which only
hit many direct debit customers this year. Almost a third (30%)
only had their direct debits increased in the first three months
of this year - even though the price increases happened last year.
As a result, many were playing catch up to make up for months
of under paying and so were shocked when their supplier advised
them how much their direct debit had to be adjusted by to compensate.
The delay was down to suppliers
having to review accounts before amending direct debits. To compensate
for last year's price increases suppliers increased direct debits
by £22 a month on average. However, almost one in ten households
(9%) saw their direct debits increased by more than £50 a month.
At the least, this adds up to an eye watering £600 a year extra
that they had to find.
Not surprisingly, when advised
of increases to direct debits a third of people (33%) felt compelled
to contact their supplier. Following this 4% cancelled their direct
debit even though this would increase the cost of their energy.
And they're not alone - according to the new data there has also
been a 217% increase in people choosing prepayment meters
(up from 0.6% to 1.9%) and a 106% increase in people choosing
variable direct debits - up from 1.6% to 3.3%. In total, these
shifts in payment methods could see 351,900 households paying
more for their energy than they need to this year.
Ann Robinson, Director of Consumer
Policy at uSwitch.com, says: "This is a deeply worrying trend
that is leaving consumers facing a Catch-22. They are moving away
from direct debits because of concerns over affordability, but
will then end up paying more for their energy because they lose
valuable direct debit discounts. Ofgem has recognised how vital
it is for consumers to have confidence in direct debit arrangements
- now it has to act quickly to stop the rot and give consumers
the reassurance they need.
"Paying by direct debit opens
the path to the cheapest energy prices in the
market - this is not something to give up without a fight. If
you are worried about the amount you are paying, contact your
supplier to find out whether the monthly payment can be lowered.
Make sure you are paying the lowest possible price for your energy
by shopping around, cut down on the amount of energy you use and
make sure you or your supplier is taking regular meter readings.
Above all, be aware that coming off fixed monthly direct debit
and paying by cash, cheque or variable direct debit will cost
you money. This should always be a last resort."
more information please contact: Jo Ganly 0207 802
2915 / email@example.com http://www.uswitch.com/
uSwitch: uSwitch.com is a free, impartial online and
telephone-based comparison and switching service, helping consumers
compare prices on gas, electricity, water, heating cover, home
telephone, broadband, digital television, mobile phones, personal
finance products and car insurance.