Episode 1 Rip Off Britain


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Episode 1

Angela Rippon, Gloria Hunniford and Julia Somerville travel the country tackling the rip-offs affecting consumers and investigating concerns both big and small.


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Transcript


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We asked you to tell us who has left you feeling ripped off.

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I think this is very, very, very wrong for what they've done.

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The bank piles charges upon charges upon charges.

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Legally, it was right.

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Morally, that's where the question of doubt comes, in my view.

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And you contacted us in your thousands

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by post, e-mail, even stopping us in the streets.

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And the message couldn't be clearer.

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You don't always get a straight answer, they try to fob you off.

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Not happy with them.

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There's always that small print with the clause in

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that you didn't realise.

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We're being ripped off, big time.

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Whether it's a deliberate rip-off,

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a simple mistake or a catch in the small print,

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we'll find out why you're out of pocket and what you can do about it.

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Keep asking the questions, go to the top if you have to.

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We do get results, that's the interesting thing.

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Your stories, your money. This is Rip-Off Britain.

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Hello, and welcome to Rip-Off Britain,

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the series that battles on your behalf

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to sort out your complaints and tries to make sure

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no one is taking advantage of you or your money.

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Today, we've the big six very firmly in our sights.

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That's right, I'm talking about

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the UK's main gas and electricity providers.

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Because if there's one cost on all our minds this winter,

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it is our ever-soaring energy bills.

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Never have they been higher or, indeed, more confusing.

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You're so right, Gloria,

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because the energy companies are saying that

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they had no choice but to hike their prices.

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But is that true? Or are they just ripping us off?

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With so many of you feeling

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as if you are at the mercy of these companies,

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today's programme is getting answers

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on a topic that really does affect every one of us,

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and making sure you don't become a casualty of the energy price war.

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We set up our very own pop-up shop,

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where you came in and told us your consumer concerns.

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I'm impressed you turned up early so you're first in line.

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We've got a couple of people from Trading Standards...

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I hope there will be somebody in there who can ease your mind

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and point you in the right direction.

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And, thinking of making your house more energy efficient?

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Well, don't do anything before hearing what happened to

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this Rip-Off Britain viewer.

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It was supposed to make my house warmer, healthier, more efficient,

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and it's done exactly the opposite.

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Also coming up, we ask Energy Secretary Chris Huhne

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exactly what he will do to bring down our bills.

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In the last few months,

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all the big six energy companies have announced price hikes

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of an average of 16% for electricity and 19% for gas.

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That's a major squeeze on our wallets.

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But even now, you can still save money by switching supplier.

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In fact, according to figures from the comparison site uSwitch,

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if all UK households moved onto the best-possible deal,

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the country could collectively save a staggering £3.2 billion

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on its energy bills.

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But where to start? With over 300 different tariffs available,

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it's not easy to work out how much you'd be paying.

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The higher cost of our energy bills this winter is something

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that affects all of us.

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No wonder everyone we asked about it had an opinion,

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and they didn't hold back.

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I think the recent rises in gas and electricity prices are atrocious.

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They're absolutely ripping off consumers all over Britain.

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Putting it up in the summer, you don't notice it as much,

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because you're not really using much gas, but, in the winter,

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you think twice before leaving it on all day

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when you're out of the house.

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One utility increases their prices, and a week or two later

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another one follows, irrespective of whether they need to or not.

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Patricia Fazakerley got in touch

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with an opinion that an awful lot of you share.

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When it comes to her energy bills, she's utterly baffled.

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I contacted Rip-Off Britain because a cold-call salesman came to the door,

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and he absolutely mesmerised me.

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The spiel he gave me was ohms and units and megahertz and things,

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and he peppered me with statistics.

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I had to shut the door, because my head was in a whirl.

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I came in here, looked at one of my bills

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and I thought, "I don't understand all this,

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"what he's been going on about."

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Patricia had no idea whether she had been offered a good deal,

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or how to compare what she was told with any other rates on the market.

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I would have changed tariffs

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if I'd have understood the tables within my bills,

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but I didn't understand what he was going on about,

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and he tried to say he was the cheapest, but I've no way of knowing.

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Her experience is typical.

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Patricia used to be a cashier trainer,

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so she's pretty number savvy,

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but when it comes to the figures in her bills, she's lost.

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The format, the layout of electric and gas bills,

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they've all got their own way of doing it,

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so therefore it is hard to tell which is the cheapest.

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Of course, the energy companies don't agree.

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Energy UK, who represent them, accept there's a lot of information

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they're required to include on bills,

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but insists the industry is working hard

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to make them as clear as possible,

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and that customers do get an annual statement with all the key details.

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They say there's a lot of choice in the energy market,

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and they listen hard to what consumers are saying.

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So, let's see if they'll listen to Patricia

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and everyone else who has told us the same thing.

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I believe that every energy company should make it simple

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for every consumer to be able to read an electric or gas bill.

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Therefore, it would be clear to me, and to many other consumers,

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which would be the cheapest tariff to go for.

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So, just how hard is it to understand your energy bills?

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Stay tuned, because later we'll be putting it to the test

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with the current Mastermind champion.

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We'll be putting some of these points

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to the Energy Secretary Chris Huhne later in the programme,

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and asking him what he's going to do about it.

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But we've a lot more of your energy horror stories to hear about first,

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and here's one Rip-Off viewer furious about what happened to them.

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Earlier this year, it emerged

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the National Grid has specifically tested an older type of gas meter

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and found that 88% of those checked were inaccurate.

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As a result, anyone who had one was being overcharged.

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But a meter doesn't have to be old to get it wrong.

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In 2006, Scarborough musician Donald Grayson had

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a new electricity meter fitted

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after joining E.ON's StayWarm tariff.

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He paid £70 a month, which was open to review at the end of each year.

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As the end of his first year approached,

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E.ON told Donald something he didn't like the sound of.

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When my contract was up for renewal, they sent me a letter,

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which said, "You've been identified as a very heavy user of electricity."

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Well, that's bunkum, because everything was the same,

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I hadn't changed anything - not even a new kettle in that time -

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so there was no way I could possibly be using any more electricity.

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He managed to negotiate a more reasonable price rise

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than the one they had suggested,

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but a year later, E.ON once again told him

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he was using very high levels of energy.

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They refused to renew his current deal,

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and he was taken off the StayWarm fixed tariff.

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But as soon as he got the first bills on the new tariff,

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Donald knew something wasn't right.

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The first bills from E.ON were all big bills.

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From December, £400, 300 in January,

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360 odd the next month, something like that,

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and I'm thinking, "These are all big bills,"

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and I'm ringing them up and saying, "These are big bills," sort of thing,

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and then they've come up with an excuse saying,

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"Your meters have not been read, we're just estimating them."

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Well, that's bunkum

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because I've got bills which say on them, actually, "Read by us".

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The others that weren't "read by us" were read by me.

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From then on, Donald kept getting bills he was sure were too high.

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E.ON insisted they were right,

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but by the summer of 2010, enough was enough.

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June was 700 and something, which was diabolical,

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but it wasn't as bad as July,

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and I finished up with £1,300 for a month's electricity.

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Are they pulling my wire?

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Donald suggested there could be a problem with the meter,

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but E.ON wouldn't accept it,

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so he decided to change energy companies.

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And when his new supplier npower checked the meter, they found

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it was running almost 70% faster than it should have been.

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E.ON had been massively overcharging Donald for months,

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so he went back to them to point that out.

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E.ON have made an offer,

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but from my calculations and my working out of the arithmetic,

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they obviously went to a different school - it doesn't add up.

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It just does not add up.

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Donald's disappointed with

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what the company has done to put things right,

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and doesn't think it fully covers

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what he was over-billed. E.ON disagree.

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They told Rip-Off Britain that

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as well as reimbursing what he was overpaid,

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they've also added a...

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..and point out that the Energy Ombudsman has ruled that to be fair.

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They say they're very sorry for the inconvenience and upset

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this matter has caused,

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and blame their failure to inspect the meter on a system error,

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and then Donald changing supplier.

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Donald is frustrated at how long this took to put right,

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but he's now got a new meter, and is much happier with his current bills.

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My electricity bill now is, just with npower, £137.

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So, why couldn't E.ON do it? Why? They just fobbed me off all the time.

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And if they fob me off, there's a lot of old people getting fobbed off.

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So, if you're worried your meter might be faulty,

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perhaps your bills just aren't adding up, and if that's the case,

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here's Greg Shepherd from Utility Watch with more information.

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If you think you have a faulty meter, here are some checks you can do.

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Check your meter readings over a seven-day period.

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Take meter readings on a daily basis at the same time,

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and check them to make sure they're consistent.

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If you think you have a faulty meter

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because you've been receiving larger bills,

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there are a few things to consider.

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Have you been providing actual or estimated readings to your supplier?

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When was the bill period?

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Your usage in the winter is likely to be higher.

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And have you had any more people than normal in the property during this time?

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Here we have a new smart meter.

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These are going to be the next generation of gas and electricity meters.

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Each meter is fitted with a SIM card just like you get in a mobile phone,

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which allows two-way communication between your meter and supplier.

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The Government plan to install these in 27 million homes and businesses over the next 10 years.

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This means the end to estimated bills and meter readings.

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Next, one way many of you have managed to lower your fuel bills

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is by having cavity wall insulation to make it more energy efficient.

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It obviously keeps the heat in, but it can save you well over £100 every year,

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and so far, under the Government's Warm Front scheme,

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almost two million people have qualified for a Government grant

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to help them get better efficiency.

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But here's the warning - before you go ahead,

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you do need to be sure your house is suitable because not all are,

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as one of our viewers was horrified to find out.

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For most homes, cavity wall insulation is a great idea.

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Adding an extra insulating layer between the bricks can really help

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cut heating bills and keep those chills at bay.

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That's certainly why Jane Reid had it done.

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So, on a chilly autumn day here in Cramlington in Northumberland,

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why on earth is she opening all her doors and windows?

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I've got to open as many doors and windows as possible to get some air into the house.

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Jane has lived in her modern home in the village since 1997.

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It was her absolute pride and joy until this happened.

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This is actually mould and mildew

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growing on the tops of the carpet and into the skirting boards.

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My silk curtains are absolutely ruined, and these are my handbags.

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And you can see the mould all over the back of it.

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Warm Front approached me and offered me a grant to get cavity wall insulation put in.

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Unfortunately, it was supposed to make my house warmer, healthier, more efficient,

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and it's done exactly the opposite.

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The walls were filled back in 2006 after a surveyor

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from the Government's Warm Front scheme inspected the house

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and said it was suitable for cavity wall insulation.

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Her loft was insulated in 2007, again through Warm Front.

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They appointed installers to do the job, but after the work was done

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Jane started noticing mould and mildew on her clothes.

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At that time, I thought that it must be structural,

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that the mould had to be coming from damp

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and therefore I got the drains checked, the guttering checked,

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the roof in case there was any water coming in through that.

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But it was none of those. We asked Steve Hodgson,

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from a trade body that represents specialists in instillation, to take a look.

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DOOR BELL RINGS

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-Morning, Steve.

-How are you?

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He says the trouble has been caused by the fact that,

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without extra work,

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Jane's house simply wasn't right for this type of instillation in the first place.

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When the survey was done, it should've been picked up

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that the building's design meant problems could occur.

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The property has very little or almost no natural ventilation.

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There's no fans,

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no extractors, there's very little opportunity

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for the moisture in the air to escape,

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and what's happened where the insulation has gone in the walls,

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it's warmed up the external walls

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and made some of the internal walls,

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some of the uninsulatable walls, much colder

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and it's attracted that airborne moisture to those walls

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and now you've got the mould growth and mildew growth

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you can see affecting a number of rooms.

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Worryingly, Jane was told by an environmental health officer

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that the mould could even be damaging the family's health.

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What he said had basically happened

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was that my home had been bubble-wrapped

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and so it can't breathe.

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There's nowhere for the air to go,

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and we're breathing in all of those mould spores.

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Jane's bubble-wrapped house is not a one-off.

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Steve says he's seen other people who have gone down the installation route

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only to find it wasn't necessarily suitable for their home.

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Unfortunately, what we're seeing

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is surveyors and specifiers coming out

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and grabbing, if you like, the easy work

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and not really thinking about the building as an individual unit,

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not thinking about where they should apply

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the installation other than just the easy bits.

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Quick, simple, but not always right for a house.

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What you can see is it's wet and soggy...

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In May this year, when she finally realised the connection

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between the mould and installation, Jane complained to Warm Front.

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But six months on, she's still stuck.

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Two inspectors have visited and concluded that issues

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to do with the building's design are related to

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the problems she suffered.

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They didn't acknowledge that was something the original inspection should have spotted,

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and to this day they haven't done anything to put things right.

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When we got in touch with Warm Front,

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they pointed out that, since the year 2000,

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they've helped two million households

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make their homes warmer and more affordable to heat.

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But they agreed that they should have helped Jane more quickly

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and apologised for the inconvenience caused.

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They say, rather than cause the problem,

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the insulation highlighted a pre-existing condition of humidity.

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But they've now identified what action needs to be taken to better ventilate the house,

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and say they'll arrange for the work to be completed as swiftly as possible.

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For Jane, that simply can't come soon enough.

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I actually feel very angry

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that my things that I've worked really hard for have been destroyed.

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You can't replace everything, and it's in pictures,

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it's in clothing, it's in bags,

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it's even in my bedding,

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so all of these things I can't afford to replace.

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My insurance company won't replace

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because the damage has been caused by the cavity wall fill,

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and I'm very upset that nothing has been done about it.

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It seems that Jane is still in limbo, which as you might imagine,

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is extremely frustrating, especially at this time of the year.

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So here's hoping she gets some sort of answer really soon.

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But if your house is suitable, cavity wall insulation

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is one of the best ways to make it more energy efficient.

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You can find out more on how to go about it by contacting the Energy Saving Trust.

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Our website has their details.

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Still to come on Rip-Off Britain:

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Could your postcode be pushing up your energy bills?

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The good news is because you're living in Yorkshire,

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you're getting the cheapest deal on your energy.

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We've been inundated at our very first pop-up shop,

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where you turned out in your thousands to get free advice from our experts.

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Straight away we can see here that the cheapest tariff

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-for you on the market at the moment would save you £271 a year.

-Wow.

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Earlier on in the programme we heard how confusing many of you find your energy bills,

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working out what you're paying per unit or indeed what tariff you're on,

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I'm afraid, is still a mystery for a lot of people.

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So, if you've ever wondered if you need the brain of Britain to understand what you're paying,

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we thought we'd put that to the test by asking someone who was once the brain of Britain to take a look.

0:19:180:19:23

Dr Ian Bayley has another impressive title,

0:19:230:19:26

he's the current Mastermind champion so all round a very clever chap.

0:19:260:19:30

The question is, is he clever enough to get to the bottom of our baffling bills?

0:19:300:19:36

If you have difficulty understanding your energy bills, you're in very good company.

0:19:360:19:42

Most of us find basic details you'd hope would be easy to find almost impossible to fathom.

0:19:420:19:47

So, that's the challenge we've set to

0:19:500:19:52

the 2011 Mastermind champion, Ian Bayley.

0:19:520:19:56

By the way he's also got a PhD in computer science and a very astute eye for detail.

0:19:560:20:01

But will he be able to answer questions about an energy bill,

0:20:020:20:06

even with the paperwork in front of him?

0:20:060:20:08

Ian Bayley, university senior lecturer, energy bills.

0:20:080:20:13

Can you identify what type of tariff is on that bill?

0:20:130:20:17

I can't see advanced tariff here,

0:20:170:20:20

I can't see beginner's tariff.

0:20:200:20:23

There's a tariff for the first seven kilowatts,

0:20:230:20:28

except, later on the tariff

0:20:280:20:31

seems to be for the first 749 kilowatts.

0:20:310:20:36

BUZZER

0:20:360:20:37

Is there a standing charge?

0:20:370:20:40

Right, well I'd expect to see it in the summary.

0:20:410:20:45

For the gas, it seems to be

0:20:450:20:47

a certain number of kilowatt hours times a certain amount.

0:20:470:20:52

If I had to guess, yes, I do have to guess, don't I?

0:20:520:20:56

If I had to guess, I'd say no.

0:20:560:20:57

BUZZER

0:20:570:20:59

How much energy has been used in this billing period?

0:20:590:21:03

I've got one plus 11 plus 142,

0:21:030:21:08

so that's about 155, 160.

0:21:080:21:12

There's this formula,

0:21:120:21:14

metric units used, calorific value,

0:21:140:21:18

volume correction

0:21:180:21:20

to convert to kilowatt hours and divide by 3.6.

0:21:200:21:24

No, I don't know.

0:21:240:21:26

BUZZER

0:21:260:21:28

Can you find any information

0:21:290:21:30

on whether that bill is estimated or not?

0:21:300:21:33

I can see some information

0:21:340:21:37

about whether it is actual or estimated.

0:21:370:21:40

You see, there are three periods here.

0:21:400:21:43

I'm thinking that,

0:21:430:21:46

if it was actual for the start

0:21:460:21:49

of this block of three periods,

0:21:490:21:53

and actual for the end of this block of three periods,

0:21:530:21:58

then it has not been estimated.

0:21:580:22:01

BEEP

0:22:010:22:02

That's correct.

0:22:020:22:03

There you have it. That's three wrong and just one right answer,

0:22:030:22:08

so with the tough questions over,

0:22:080:22:10

it's clear that Ian is as confused as the rest of us.

0:22:100:22:13

Even looking at those bills, he can't figure them out.

0:22:130:22:16

What's particularly confusing is that there are always two tariffs.

0:22:160:22:21

A tariff for when you've used a certain number of units

0:22:210:22:25

and a tariff before you've used that certain number of units,

0:22:250:22:28

and the changeover point is bound to be different

0:22:280:22:32

for each of these utility companies.

0:22:320:22:36

So you can't possibly do any sort of like-for-like comparison.

0:22:360:22:39

Ian thinks there should be a set pricing structure,

0:22:390:22:43

which all the energy companies should stick to.

0:22:430:22:45

I think all the energy companies should just simplify their pricing structure.

0:22:450:22:50

I am the current Mastermind champion,

0:22:500:22:53

I'm the former brain of Britain, I have a PhD in computer science.

0:22:530:22:57

If I can't work out an energy bill,

0:22:570:22:59

then what hope does everyone else have?

0:22:590:23:02

So, is there a simple way of working out your bills?

0:23:060:23:10

If you want to see if you can better your current energy deal, how do you go about it?

0:23:100:23:14

Consumer Focus have pulled together some tips on how to make the whole thing a lot simpler.

0:23:140:23:20

When you get your energy bill, the most important thing people want to look at

0:23:200:23:24

is how much money they owe their energy company.

0:23:240:23:27

It's sometimes hard to understand how you've built up that amount of money.

0:23:270:23:31

All energy bills will have an explanation of how much energy you've used,

0:23:310:23:34

how much each unit costs, and how that figure has been calculated.

0:23:340:23:39

It's best to look at that and see how much you've used

0:23:390:23:42

and whether it corresponds to your meter reading.

0:23:420:23:45

An energy supplier has to tell you whether your bill is based on

0:23:450:23:48

an actual accurate meter reading or an estimated one.

0:23:480:23:51

If your bill has been based on an estimated meter reading,

0:23:510:23:54

one thing you can do is call your energy supplier and make sure they have an accurate meter reading

0:23:540:23:59

as soon as possible to make sure your bill is based on your consumption.

0:23:590:24:02

If you're elderly or disabled,

0:24:020:24:04

a lot of energy suppliers are on a priority services register,

0:24:040:24:07

which means they'll come out every three months

0:24:070:24:10

and do a meter reading for you.

0:24:100:24:12

If you have a complaint or there's anything you don't understand,

0:24:120:24:15

the first thing to do is phone your energy company.

0:24:150:24:18

They have an obligation to sort out any consumer theory within eight weeks.

0:24:180:24:22

You can also phone Consumer Direct at any time.

0:24:220:24:25

This is a free Government service that you can call to get advice on your energy bills.

0:24:250:24:30

If your energy company fails to sort out the problem in eight weeks,

0:24:300:24:34

you can take your problem to the energy ombudsman

0:24:340:24:37

who can give an independent assessment

0:24:370:24:40

and may even be able to provide you with compensation if they find the energy company is at fault.

0:24:400:24:45

Big companies don't always make things easy to understand,

0:24:480:24:52

and it can be confusing trying to work out just why you haven't ended up with what you expected.

0:24:520:24:58

So, if you feel bogged down,

0:24:580:25:00

we've put together a booklet of tips and advice.

0:25:000:25:03

You can find a link to the free guide on our website.

0:25:030:25:07

Or, to receive a copy in the post, send an A5 self-addressed envelope

0:25:090:25:14

to the address we'll give you at the end of the programme.

0:25:140:25:18

We're at the Trafford Centre in Manchester,

0:25:200:25:24

and for the first time, Rip-Off Britain has opened its very first pop-up shop.

0:25:240:25:28

We've teamed up with BBC Learning to transform this shop unit

0:25:280:25:32

into a one-stop consumer advice shop just for the weekend.

0:25:320:25:37

Here at Rip-Off Britain, we think it's important for us

0:25:370:25:40

to meet people face-to-face and hear your problems.

0:25:400:25:43

And this is the perfect opportunity to do exactly that.

0:25:430:25:48

Morning! I'm impressed that you turned up early so you're first in line.

0:25:500:25:54

I hope there's someone to give you peace of mind

0:25:560:25:58

-and point you in the right direction.

-Thank you very much.

0:25:580:26:01

We have people from Trading Standards and some other people too,

0:26:030:26:06

so hopefully we'll be able to get a solution for you today.

0:26:060:26:09

-Thanks for coming.

-Thank you.

0:26:090:26:11

Here in the BBC Learning area,

0:26:160:26:18

there's lots of help on hand with numeracy.

0:26:180:26:22

Percentage increases are affecting many budgets, particularly when it comes to our energy bills.

0:26:220:26:27

Consumers have been airing their frustrations

0:26:270:26:29

about the price hikes in specially-constructed our gripe box.

0:26:290:26:33

Hello, I want to speak on behalf of all the rest of the household owners

0:26:330:26:37

regarding the electric and gas bills going so high.

0:26:370:26:41

Don't you find electric bills go up and up and up?

0:26:410:26:45

And then you look in the paper and find out all these electric firms

0:26:450:26:49

are making millions of pounds of profits... For who?

0:26:490:26:52

Lots of the people we've been meeting are concerned.

0:26:520:26:56

-Do you feel you're being ripped off?

-With energy?

-With energy bills.

0:26:560:27:00

With energy bills, yes. They seem to be going up and up.

0:27:000:27:05

What's bothering you?

0:27:050:27:07

I just think the basic price of fuel now, and they talk about things going up themselves, based on fuel.

0:27:070:27:13

Not only are prices rising, they're baffling.

0:27:130:27:18

Consumer Christopher Turner is trying to work out his energy tariff.

0:27:180:27:22

Bills, you need a degree in maths to understand it.

0:27:220:27:24

To start off, the meter shows metric units but they don't charge metric units,

0:27:240:27:30

they charge kilowatt hours so what do they do?

0:27:300:27:33

They take the metric units, multiply that by 39.225,

0:27:330:27:39

I don't know where they get that figure from, to get calorific value.

0:27:390:27:43

It's easy to hide a rip-off here because people don't understand it

0:27:430:27:47

so they don't question it, they just pay the bill.

0:27:470:27:50

When Phil's current energy tariff was coming to an end,

0:27:500:27:55

he came along for some valuable advice from energy expert Scott Byrom.

0:27:550:27:59

I want to know whether to stay on a cap tariff, go on a standard tariff,

0:28:010:28:04

an online tariff, or any other tariff that is available.

0:28:040:28:08

Be aware of what your current energy suppliers can offer you.

0:28:080:28:12

Do you know what it is?

0:28:120:28:13

I think at the moment it's the standard rate plus 5%.

0:28:130:28:17

OK, so the standard rate is all energy suppliers' most expensive product.

0:28:170:28:22

First move, don't accept that.

0:28:220:28:24

Whilst you're here, we could probably get you online,

0:28:240:28:27

do a quick comparison, and find the right product for you.

0:28:270:28:30

-Shall we jump in?

-Yes, please.

-OK.

0:28:300:28:32

Straight away we can see here that the cheapest tariff for you on the market at the moment

0:28:330:28:38

-would save you £271 a year so it is pretty good.

-Wow, yes.

0:28:380:28:43

Quite a healthy saving.

0:28:430:28:45

I can tell you, our pop-up shop was a real eye-opener,

0:28:480:28:51

and undoubtedly the subject that caused the hottest debate of the day

0:28:510:28:55

was undoubtedly the rise and rise in energy bills.

0:28:550:29:00

And one aspect of those soaring costs that seems particularly unfair

0:29:000:29:04

is the way that you're likely to pay more in one part of the country than you will in another

0:29:040:29:08

for what is, let's face it,

0:29:080:29:11

basically identical gas and electricity.

0:29:110:29:13

So, for instance, if you live in North Yorkshire,

0:29:150:29:18

then according to the comparison site uSwitch,

0:29:180:29:20

you've got some of the cheapest fuel packages around,

0:29:200:29:23

but if you live in Bristol,

0:29:230:29:25

then you're probably paying some of the highest prices.

0:29:250:29:29

But why? We visited two parts of the country

0:29:290:29:31

that are caught right in the middle of an energy postcode lottery.

0:29:310:29:36

They've pooh-poohed it, but the regulator Ofgem

0:29:380:29:41

says profits of the big energy companies

0:29:410:29:44

have rocketed in the last six months from £15 per customer to £125.

0:29:440:29:51

That's shocking enough, but it turns out some of you

0:29:510:29:54

may be paying even more for your fuel than you thought, and all because of your postcode.

0:29:540:29:59

This period last year 8.93 kilowatts.

0:30:000:30:04

John and Rowena Langford live in Bristol,

0:30:040:30:07

which according to a recent survey, is the most expensive energy region

0:30:070:30:11

in the UK for people who pay by direct debit.

0:30:110:30:14

They've been loyal customers staying with the supplier for over 40 years.

0:30:140:30:19

But that relationship could soon be over.

0:30:190:30:22

For the first time since 1971,

0:30:220:30:25

The Langford's have decided it's time for change.

0:30:250:30:28

They just don't make it that clear.

0:30:280:30:31

At the moment we pay EDF £55 a month

0:30:310:30:37

and we pay the gas, about £49, I think it is, a month.

0:30:370:30:44

And it's just an awful lot of money.

0:30:440:30:46

The Langford's are among millions of people in the UK

0:30:460:30:49

probably paying more than they need for their energy.

0:30:490:30:53

Switching can still slash up to a quarter from your bills.

0:30:530:30:56

But the fact that they've never done it,

0:30:560:30:59

-coupled with living in an energy price hotspot...

-Hi, Rowena.

0:30:590:31:03

..means they might as well be throwing money down the drain.

0:31:030:31:06

So, to help them sort out their bills, we've brought in Thomas Lyon,

0:31:060:31:09

he's going to have a look at what's available on the market and see if

0:31:090:31:13

switching means they can claw back a bit of that profit for themselves.

0:31:130:31:18

First really easy question, what's your postcode?

0:31:180:31:21

And you pay by monthly direct debit currently

0:31:220:31:24

and you're on standard plans with both suppliers.

0:31:240:31:27

We've had a look at how much you can save

0:31:270:31:30

-and you can save £266 per year which is just over £20 per month.

-Wow!

0:31:300:31:35

-Wowee!

-That's a lot.

0:31:350:31:37

But why should where you live affect how much you pay for your energy?

0:31:370:31:42

Shouldn't we all pay the same?

0:31:420:31:45

Prices do vary regionally.

0:31:450:31:47

A significant proportion of your bill is the cost of,

0:31:470:31:51

for a supplier to distribute the gas and electricity

0:31:510:31:54

and get it to your home.

0:31:540:31:56

They do pass those costs on to you.

0:31:560:31:58

It's really important that you get a comparison of the costs

0:31:580:32:02

you have to pay based on your specific usage and conditions.

0:32:020:32:07

Unfortunately, in the energy industry, often loyalty doesn't pay.

0:32:070:32:12

Many people who are still on the same tariff with the same supplier that they've always been

0:32:120:32:18

are paying probably several hundred pounds more than they need to

0:32:180:32:22

which is really concerning given the cold winter we are about to go into.

0:32:220:32:26

Over 65s and low income consumers are officially the group

0:32:270:32:31

least likely to look into switching online even though they could

0:32:310:32:35

have been most to gain, just like John and Rowena,

0:32:350:32:39

who've now abandoned their loyalty and are about to start saving,

0:32:390:32:42

by moving to a new supplier.

0:32:420:32:46

But if the Langford's are in the part of the country

0:32:460:32:48

paying the most for their gas and electricity,

0:32:480:32:51

who is lucky enough to live in the cheapest energy postcode?

0:32:510:32:55

The Smith family, from Brough, near Hull.

0:32:550:32:58

They benefit from the lowest priced energy in the country.

0:32:580:33:02

A great start.

0:33:020:33:04

But now more than ever they still think they are paying too much.

0:33:040:33:08

Can they bring down their bills more by cutting down on what they use?

0:33:080:33:12

I do go around, especially with Lydia, I go around her room

0:33:120:33:15

and make sure things are off, so, yes, a proper dad.

0:33:150:33:18

Yes, I think we have a culprit here.

0:33:180:33:20

Especially in the morning I have to check the hair straighteners are switched off,

0:33:200:33:24

they are not always.

0:33:240:33:26

-And...

-Lights as well.

0:33:260:33:28

I think we do the obvious but I hope we'll find

0:33:280:33:31

there's even more we can do.

0:33:310:33:32

Well this family sound like they're up for the challenge.

0:33:320:33:35

So we're sending in another helpful expert,

0:33:350:33:38

Denise Hall from the Energy Saving Trust.

0:33:380:33:40

She's going to test the Smiths to the limits.

0:33:400:33:43

To see how they use their energy and she won't pull any punches.

0:33:430:33:47

-Hello, Mrs Smith?

-Hello.

0:33:470:33:49

My name's Denise, I'm your energy adviser for the day.

0:33:490:33:52

-Come on in.

-Thank you very much.

0:33:520:33:53

You may wonder why I'm holding a piggy bank full of money.

0:33:550:33:58

The good news is that because you're living in Yorkshire

0:33:580:34:01

you're getting the cheapest deal on your energy.

0:34:010:34:03

-Excellent.

-So I'm going to give you your piggy bank.

0:34:030:34:06

But we'll have a look around your house.

0:34:060:34:09

We're going to do an energy walk round

0:34:090:34:11

and we'll see what else we can save.

0:34:110:34:14

I suspect I can save you over £200.

0:34:140:34:17

-Wow, OK.

-OK.

-OK.

0:34:170:34:19

So how old is this boiler?

0:34:220:34:24

It came new with the house so that's about 12 years old.

0:34:240:34:28

OK, so, when this boiler needs replacing it would be a good idea

0:34:280:34:31

to go for an A-rated boiler which would be condensing.

0:34:310:34:35

And they use less energy.

0:34:350:34:37

Sp you get more for your money out of your fuel.

0:34:370:34:39

If you had a hot water cylinder the recommended temperature

0:34:390:34:43

for hot water that would be coming out of your taps

0:34:430:34:46

-is 60 degrees centigrade.

-Right.

0:34:460:34:48

So when you turn on your hot water tap, can you put your hand under that water

0:34:480:34:52

or do you, say for instance when you're running a bath,

0:34:520:34:54

do you have to put a lot of cold water in?

0:34:540:34:56

Put a fair bit of cold water in, yes.

0:34:560:34:58

OK, so you might get some savings then by turning your boiler down.

0:34:580:35:02

To alter the temperature of your hot water.

0:35:020:35:05

-OK, good. OK, we'll give that a go.

-OK.

0:35:050:35:07

Denise is on a roll.

0:35:070:35:09

-And so this is your room thermostat?

-It is, yeah.

0:35:090:35:12

For your central heating. What do you normally have that set at?

0:35:120:35:16

-It's usually up near 23, 24.

-OK.

0:35:160:35:19

You're going to save a whopping £120 every year

0:35:190:35:25

just by turning that down to the minimum recommended temperature which is 21.

0:35:250:35:29

-21?

-Yeah.

0:35:290:35:30

OK. We are definitely doing that then.

0:35:300:35:33

And she's not finished yet.

0:35:330:35:35

Did you know that 50% of all our energy is consumed in the kitchen?

0:35:350:35:41

-Oh, really? No.

-Yes.

0:35:410:35:42

If you leave your dishwasher on

0:35:420:35:45

at the end of its cycle it can be using as much as 70% of the energy

0:35:450:35:48

as if it was actually running!

0:35:480:35:50

OK, we keep the fridge extra freezer

0:35:510:35:53

-and the washing machine in the garage.

-OK.

0:35:530:35:57

Washing machines, as with the dishwasher,

0:35:570:36:00

once they've finished their cycle if they're left on standby they can be

0:36:000:36:05

using 20% of the energy as if they are within the cycle.

0:36:050:36:09

Get that switched off at the end of the cycle.

0:36:090:36:11

Wherever you live, shopping around

0:36:110:36:14

and cutting what you use can reduce your bills

0:36:140:36:17

but we're not all as lucky as the Smiths to be in a region where energy already costs less.

0:36:170:36:23

Take on board the tips and make sure the head start that you've been given doesn't get wasted.

0:36:230:36:28

According to uSwitch the average difference in our fuel costs

0:36:300:36:34

because of where we live, is £76, but it can be as high as 180.

0:36:340:36:41

Energy companies say that's because the cost of transporting

0:36:410:36:44

gas and electricity varies according to the distance from the source

0:36:440:36:48

and different network charges apply in different parts of the country.

0:36:480:36:52

But that seems to be another good reason to shop around

0:36:520:36:54

and make sure that what you're paying for your energy

0:36:540:36:58

is the best deal available, wherever you live.

0:36:580:37:02

Well it's clear that the huge hike in energy prices is providing

0:37:020:37:07

the biggest financial headache for most consumers this year.

0:37:070:37:11

Do you think enough is being done

0:37:110:37:13

to bring down the cost of gas and electricity?

0:37:130:37:15

Well let's go and ask the Energy Minister, Chris Hume.

0:37:150:37:19

Minister, not going to beat about the bush,

0:37:220:37:24

there's a big sign at the entrance to this ministry

0:37:240:37:27

which says check, switch, insulate.

0:37:270:37:30

That is a bit of a joke in view of some of the things

0:37:300:37:33

that people have been writing to us about. First of all, check.

0:37:330:37:36

When did you last check your electricity or gas bill

0:37:360:37:40

and when you did, did you understand it?

0:37:400:37:43

About a month ago. Well, actually, I did.

0:37:430:37:45

But I have to say, it's not easy to understand

0:37:450:37:47

and that's exactly why one of the other things which we're doing

0:37:470:37:51

is to try and simplify tariffs with Ofgem.

0:37:510:37:54

We're going to make sure that they are far fewer tariffs.

0:37:540:37:57

The biggest supplier, British Gas, has six.

0:37:570:38:01

That's already rather a lot,

0:38:010:38:03

frankly, for something which is a bog-standard commodity.

0:38:030:38:08

I'm going to stop you there.

0:38:080:38:09

I've seen information which says between the six,

0:38:090:38:13

there are 300 separate tariffs.

0:38:130:38:15

When you're checking to see whether you can have a better price

0:38:150:38:19

with another company, it's impossible to check like with like.

0:38:190:38:23

How will you get them down from 300?

0:38:230:38:25

We've got to simplify and Ofgem have that on the way.

0:38:250:38:29

We'll insist that they get far fewer tariffs,

0:38:290:38:31

that it's much simpler for the consumer

0:38:310:38:34

to understand what's going on, to see which is the better deal and to switch.

0:38:340:38:39

You're right, we've got to make it much simpler

0:38:390:38:42

for the consumer and we will do that.

0:38:420:38:44

At the Liberal Party conference this year you said in your speech

0:38:440:38:47

that you're going to get tough with the big six companies.

0:38:470:38:51

You referred to predatory pricing, saying it must and will stop.

0:38:510:38:54

That kind of thing got you lots of applause at a party conference.

0:38:540:38:58

The public want to know when we'll see the results of that, or was it just rhetoric?

0:38:580:39:02

We're doing that right now.

0:39:020:39:04

I've been in conversations not just since then,

0:39:040:39:07

but a long time before, with Ofgem,

0:39:070:39:09

in order to make sure that we are dealing with any abuses in the sector,

0:39:090:39:13

clamping down on misselling, introducing new powers

0:39:130:39:16

to allow redress to consumers,

0:39:160:39:19

which we will legislate for in the next Energy Bill,

0:39:190:39:23

making sure that it's easier for consumers to compare prices

0:39:230:39:27

by shrinking the number of tariffs, making sure through our electricity

0:39:270:39:31

market reform that we get more people into the market

0:39:310:39:34

so that it's more competitive - good news for consumers.

0:39:340:39:37

All of those things don't happen overnight

0:39:370:39:39

but we're working on those things with as much urgency

0:39:390:39:43

as we can possibly muster right now,

0:39:430:39:45

and I know Ofgem are doing that as well.

0:39:450:39:47

Let me ask one final question, Minister.

0:39:470:39:49

Put yourself in the place of a pensioner,

0:39:490:39:51

of a single mother, of a family on a fixed income,

0:39:510:39:55

facing this cold winter

0:39:550:39:57

a huge bill for electricity and gas which they know they can't meet

0:39:570:40:03

because although the prices have gone up, their incomes

0:40:030:40:06

have stayed level or dropped completely.

0:40:060:40:08

My reaction would be horror. There's no doubt about it,

0:40:080:40:12

if you're in a situation where you suddenly get a very large bill

0:40:120:40:16

which is outside what you can afford, it's extremely distressing

0:40:160:40:20

and obviously, like many MPs, I have people who come to me

0:40:200:40:24

in my surgery every week in my constituency

0:40:240:40:27

and I see them and they're often in that sort of position

0:40:270:40:30

not just with energy bills but with other things as well.

0:40:300:40:33

It's extremely difficult and that's one of the reasons why,

0:40:330:40:36

as a government, we have increased by two-thirds

0:40:360:40:39

the amount of discount which is going to be available,

0:40:390:40:42

particularly to elderly pensioners, in this sort of situation.

0:40:420:40:46

We are helping to tackle fuel poverty

0:40:460:40:49

but I don't want in any way to underestimate the gravity of the problem we have as a country

0:40:490:40:54

still compared with other European countries

0:40:540:40:57

and the number of people who are in real danger for their health

0:40:570:41:00

as a result of this sort of situation.

0:41:000:41:02

We must tackle that. It's an urgent national priority.

0:41:020:41:06

Minister, thank you.

0:41:060:41:08

All the energy companies have said

0:41:100:41:12

they're committed to simplifying bills.

0:41:120:41:14

British Gas have announced they'll have just two tariffs

0:41:140:41:17

and bills will have a full breakdown of costs.

0:41:170:41:20

As for their price rises, the companies all say these were unavoidable

0:41:200:41:24

because of rising costs and higher global gas prices.

0:41:240:41:27

But we'll be looking at energy bills again this series

0:41:270:41:30

and hearing more from the industry itself.

0:41:300:41:34

By any standards around the world,

0:41:340:41:36

this is the most competitive markets for energy.

0:41:360:41:38

Here at Rip-Off Britain, we're always ready to investigate more of your stories.

0:41:400:41:45

Confused over your bills?

0:41:450:41:47

Tying to wade through never-ending small print that leaves you totally confused?

0:41:470:41:51

I might have been stupid for not reading it,

0:41:510:41:54

or I've read it and not took it in.

0:41:540:41:56

I could kick myself, I really could.

0:41:560:41:58

Unsure what to do when you discover you've lost out

0:41:580:42:02

and that "great deal" has ended up costing you money?

0:42:020:42:06

I thought, this cannot be true, it's totally unacceptable. I was so angry.

0:42:060:42:11

You might have a cautionary tale of your own

0:42:110:42:13

and would be happy to share the mistakes that you've made

0:42:130:42:16

with us so others don't do the same.

0:42:160:42:19

No-one knows about this, so this is very, very strange to me,

0:42:190:42:22

and I really would like to get this much clearer.

0:42:220:42:24

You can write to us...

0:42:270:42:29

Or send us an e-mail...

0:42:350:42:38

The Rip-Off team is ready and waiting to investigate your stories.

0:42:420:42:48

Well, even though our gas and electricity bills are so much higher this winter than last,

0:42:480:42:53

do remember, there really is still money to be saved by switching.

0:42:530:42:57

Staying loyal to your energy supplier could mean

0:42:570:42:59

you're paying well over the odds by hundreds of pounds in some cases.

0:42:590:43:03

If you feel like you've had poor customer service from any company you do business with,

0:43:030:43:07

not just the energy ones, then make sure you complain.

0:43:070:43:10

I always say, go right to the top if you have to,

0:43:100:43:12

until you get some decent answers.

0:43:120:43:15

Sometimes that's the only way.

0:43:150:43:16

In the meantime, do keep your letters and e-mails coming in to us

0:43:160:43:20

because we're always delighted to hear from you,

0:43:200:43:22

especially when it means that sharing your experiences with us

0:43:220:43:26

could actually save other people from getting ripped off.

0:43:260:43:29

So, until the next time,

0:43:290:43:30

-from all of us, goodbye.

-Goodbye.

-Goodbye.

0:43:300:43:33

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:43:480:43:51

E-mail [email protected]

0:43:510:43:54

The series exposing rip-offs, raw deals and poor service returns for a new run, with Julia Somerville joining Gloria Hunniford and Angela Rippon to investigate why viewers have been left out of pocket - and trying to get their problems resolved. Whether it's rocketing energy prices, unexpected bank charges, or a catch in the small print that's had devastating consequences, they'll get answers from the companies responsible - as well as giving invaluable tips and advice on how to get the best deals, and avoid costly rip offs! Plus, the team have been on the road, tackling consumer complaints face to face at the Rip Off Britain Pop-Up shop.