Wednesday 24th July 2024

How I fought a bill hike blitz and won back over £500

Mouthy Money editor Edmund Greaves recounts his experience of bills soaring after the birth of his son in October last year, and how he fought more than one bill hike.

A couple look at paperwork and possibly a bill hike.

Eight months on from the birth of our son, we have had nasty bill hike surprises as our household providers hike our direct debits.

The problem stems from the way in which our bills, primarily for energy and water, are collected. It has led, in quick succession, to a savage bill hike blitz that could have added £120 a month to our bills.

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But instead of just taking it, I fought our providers and won back more than £500 a year.

The bill hike problem

Our energy and water bills are both metered. We have an energy smart meter so I don’t have to provide readings, and our water meter is checked every six months by our water company.

Now, our son was born at the end of October 2024, and it would be safe to say our usage of both services has increased.

We use the washing machine and tumble dryer more. We had the heating on more than usual to keep our house warmer for him in Winter. There are other things but these are probably the main additional drains on our usage.

Between water, gas and electric our usage has increased by roughly around 10% for each. This, when you track it in our bill statements, is pretty well immediately noticeable.

But here’s the problem: our providers don’t pay any attention to usage changes in the short term. They just hike their direct debit levels when you accrue an accidental deficit.

This meant that from October, our usage increased, but our direct debits did not.

Eight months on and the disparity in usage against what we were paying each month has enough of an affect that our water bill had a more than £200 discrepancy, while our energy stood closer to £500 in deficit.

I will admit at this point, I did not pay enough attention to the deficits on each as they rose, but the effect was incremental over months.

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Provider shenanigans

This came to a head all at once in the past few weeks. First water, then energy provider both got in touch with me to say our direct debits weren’t covering our usage.

For water, we were paying £50 a month. The provider now wanted £100 a month from us to cover the deficit.

Our energy provider was taking £130 a month from us, but it wanted £200 a month going forward.

This would have meant £120 a month in higher bills, something our budget would struggle to meet considering my partner Ellyn is still on maternity leave.

So I hit the phones to fight our corner.

In both cases I did some sums to figure out:

A. How much our monthly usage should cost, based on our consumption.

B. How much extra it would take, over 12 months, to pay our deficits back to £0.

For our water bill, this meant paying an extra £20 month. For energy, it would be £35. This versus attempted increases of £50 and £70 respectively (almost, suspiciously, as if both had just decided to more than double the difference).

The water company was more straightforward. We agreed to pay £70 a month, which over 12 months will bring us back to £0 deficit.

The energy company was more tricky, because you have to factor in the energy price cap. With the cap coming down in July, the level they had set our new bills at would have meant paying £2,400 a year, a mad amount.

In their own estimates we were going to use £1,672 (before the price cap decrease) in gas and electric or £139 a month, only a small amount more than our actual bill. With the price cap decrease – 8% reduction for electricity and 9% for gas – I reasoned that £1,522 a year would be likelier – or around £127 a month.

In order to beat our £500 deficit, I calculated that £165 a month would do it over 12 months with the above figures in mind.

This is what I reasoned to the (perfectly affable) call centre attendant on the phone. She accepted my calculations and the bill was duly adjusted.

And that was that, really.

As is the case with so many household service providers, from energy to insurance, the most important thing we can all do as customers is to stand our ground and push for a better deal.

This is increasingly difficult in markets such as energy, but there is still room to push back when companies try and take more of our money without actually improving their service levels.

Ultimately our bills have gone up, and I will now try and focus on how we reduce consumption, but we’re £55 a month worse off, not £120 thanks to a bit of calculation and effort. This means £540 a year in extra bill savings.

A win is a win these days, so I’ll take any day.

Photo by Mikhail Nilov

Edmund Greaves


Edmund Greaves is editor of Mouthy Money. Formerly deputy editor of Moneywise magazine, he has worked in journalism for over a decade in politics, travel and now money.

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