Despite the fact that rising food and fuel prices and tighter lending conditions are hitting householders' pockets, many continue to pay over the odds for household bills as a result of a provider's error.
According to moneysupermarket.com, eight million people have been overcharged in the last three months alone. Its research shows that, during the last quarter, 17 per cent of people in the UK found a mistake on their bill, while 34 per cent had found a mistake in the last 12 months.
The research also found that 50 per cent do not check every bill they receive, despite evidence that providers are making mistakes. Head of broadband and mobiles at moneysupermarket.com, Rob Barnes, says: "The staggering amount of people who've been hit with an incorrect bill only goes to show how inadequate some providers can be. Consumers are already facing increased living costs, the last thing they need is to be charged for something they never had.
"Worryingly there are millions of people who still don't check their bills, meaning they could be paying over the odds for a service they have never received. If you don't check all your bills you're leaving yourselves open to being taken advantage of."
The company found that the most popular method for paying the majority of bills is direct debit, accounting for 63 per cent of home phone
customers, about half of all gas and electricity
customers (54 per cent electricity and 48 per cent gas), 34 per cent of mobile phone
customers and 25 per cent of credit card
customers. But it is concerned that the millions of incorrect invoices sent out each year could mean that consumers are wasting hundreds of pounds by allowing direct debits to go ahead without checking whether their bills are accurate.
Those who choose not to pay bills by direct debit believe they would not monitor their monthly payments if they were automatic. The study showed that women (42 per cent) are more vigilant about payments than men (33 per cent), while 33 per cent of respondents believe paying by direct debit would diminish their control over their finances. Eleven per cent say they would not trust their supplier to take the correct amount.
Mr Barnes added: "People should monitor every bill they receive - especially if they pay by direct debit. If payments are made automatically against incorrectly charged bills, suppliers are raking in millions of extra pounds.
"Also, anyone who doesn't pay by direct debit should check whether they would be hit with extra charges as some suppliers, such as BT and Virgin, charge for not paying by direct debit. Consumers are already going through a hard time with rising living costs, it is about time suppliers started treating them fairly."