Wave goodbye to bad bills


Friday 21 October 2005

No-one likes receiving bills, though a new proposal out today (21 October) is aiming to end “the era of erroneous bills in the UK” and the stress they cause both businesses and consumers.

The British Standards Institution has published a specification for customer billing practice that will set a new agenda for clearer, simpler, more accurate bills.

The standard is applicable to the traditional utilities, such as water, gas and electricity, but also more recently introduced services such as mobile phone and internet services. Consumers and service providers can wake up from the “UK’s billing nightmare” if businesses adopt the best practice set out by the standard, developed by several leading organisations.

The standard aims to:

Set minimum standards of billing services for consumers

Give consumers a clearer understanding and greater certainty of the billing process and set out generic requirements for the accurate processing of bills

Minimise complaints by addressing causes of frequent complaints about billing e.g. the standard specifies the minimum requirements for service providers

Promote informed customer choice and social objectives by accurately informing consumers how much of a service they are actually using so they can choose suppliers

Avoid an unduly prescriptive approach, allowing service providers to organise their procedures in the manner that best suits their business

Provide assistance in meeting corporate social responsibility obligations

Assist service providers with the presentation of essential information. This is achieved by providing a common framework that specifies the content of the “principal page” and its presentation in a way that minimises ambiguity and confusion.
In light of the levels of customer confusion and dissatisfaction with billing procedures and the resultant cost to companies, smarter customer billing can handsomely repay the effort invested.

Malcolm Wicks, Minister of State for Energy, said: “This new billing standard launched by BSI offers the opportunity for streamlining and improving the billing process and could bring substantial benefits to both industry and the consumer. It is important that the industry, working with others, produce meaningful solutions that address billing problems and I’m sure they will rise to the challenge of better billing, drawing on this BSI standard.

“Smart meters could also make a real difference in billing accuracy through remote reading and I encourage the industry to look closely at the potential and exploitation of this technology”.

Brian Such, BSI British Standards Committee Manager, said, “BSI has produced this best practice guidance to provide a practical framework for addressing the billing concerns of businesses and consumers, offering potential cost savings through the reduction of errors and misunderstanding.

“The British standard is voluntary but it offers businesses a clear opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to providing a quality billing service to their customers.”

Allan Asher, Chief Executive of the gas and electricity consumer watchdog energywatch, said: “We support this BSI Standard because it gives consumers, for the first time, a real prospect of getting an accurate and timely picture of their energy use.”

Asher continued: “The new standard will become the benchmark by which the energy industry is judged.“

Ann Robinson, Director of Consumer Policy at uSwitch.com, said: “This is long overdue. Consumers need to understand their bills if they are to be able to shop around to compare prices effectively at a time of rapidly increasing energy costs.”

- Ends -

Notes to editors

  • “Principal page” – This is the first page of a bill that includes information on the services provided including the billing company, the cost of the service, the date the costs were incurred and contact information for enquiries. Recommended layouts for the principal page of billing documents are illustrated in the standard.
  • Buy BS 8463:2005 Specification for customer billing practice
  • Service providers invest considerable financial and other resources dealing with complaints and late payment resulting from misunderstandings and misinterpretations of their billing. The new approach will streamline this process and enhance consumer satisfaction.
  • BSI British Standards is the UK’s national standards body, working with government, business and consumers to represent UK interests and facilitate the production of British, European and international standards to meet economic and social needs.
  • Energywatch is the gas and electricity consumer watchdog.
  • Examples of bill blunders in London, Cumbria, Essex, Lancashire, Merseyside, Cambridge, Wales and other parts of the country are available from energywatch.