Although bills are an unwanted and unavoidable intrusion into every adult’s life, a disproportionately high number of pensioners feels obliged to pay them as promptly and unquestioningly as possible.
This is all the more inexplicable since in 2013 alone, energy companies made £650 million from mistakes in their bills, with almost one in three containing errors and some 28% of customers being overcharged by an average of £121. Telephone bills are virtually impossible to understand, but are likely to incur a similar or even greater number of errors, while those for water and sewerage routinely include surcharges for urine retention, excessive sweating and stool hoarding.
Against this background, it would seem clear that bills should never be paid when first received; instead, the most sensible response is to ring a few figures at random, write ‘I think this is wrong’ alongside them and return the bill in an unstamped envelope.
Post-dating cheques, omitting your signature, using the wrong account number and stapling your cheque to a log will all delay payment still further, and then referring the matter to your MP, the relevant industry regulator and the ombudsman should add several more months to your period of grace.
To date, the longest PPP (Payment Postponement Period) has been achieved by Marion and Simon Stallworthy of Middleton Baggot, who eventually settled their 1998 final quarter gas bill in March 2011 after negotiating a 58% reduction to cover the cost of storing EDF paperwork in their sideboard, preparing sandwiches for the 14 bailiffs who visited their home and buying new hats for their court appearances.