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Millions of families now face punishing broadband and phone bill hikes as telecoms giants cash in on price rises.

Firms are inflicting increases of around 10 per cent in the spring, despite inflation hitting a 30-year high of 5.4 per cent.

Mobile phone companies are ramping up bills even higher — by using an outdated inflation measure that could push up prices by more than 11 per cent.

Hikes: Telecoms firms are inflicting increases of around 10 per cent in the spring, despite inflation hitting a 30-year high of 5.4%

Hikes: Telecoms firms are inflicting increases of around 10 per cent in the spring, despite inflation hitting a 30-year high of 5.4%

Critics say the demands are unacceptable as families face a soaring cost of living crisis while telecoms firms rake in huge profits.

It is estimated the move will cost households an extra £104.5 million a month — or almost £1.3 billion a year.

Pressure is now mounting on watchdog Ofcom to intervene, with campaigners accusing firms of exploiting the small print to allow them to raise prices mid-contract, which customers cannot escape without paying hefty penalties.

And today they back Money Mail’s call for firms to scrap these punitive price hikes. Here, we explain what the increases mean for you — and how you can still slash your bills.

Sneaky contracts

Major providers began sneaking annual price hikes into customer contracts in 2020. The clauses give them the right to raise bills once a year, usually in March or April.

Most increase bills in line with inflation as measured in December by the consumer price index (CPI) — plus an extra 3.7-3.9 per cent. 

Telecoms firms say the additional percentage increase is needed to ensure investment in their networks.

Martyn James, from complaints service Resolver, says: ‘It’s already appalling that telecoms providers are allowed to increase prices mid-contract without giving customers the option of walking away without penalty. 

Small print: Major providers began sneaking annual price hikes into customer contracts in 2020. The clauses give them the right to raise bills once a year, usually in March or April

Small print: Major providers began sneaking annual price hikes into customer contracts in 2020. The clauses give them the right to raise bills once a year, usually in March or April 

‘But to push up prices above and beyond inflation is deeply unfair, especially now given their profits and when many people are struggling.’

With most contracts typically 24 months long, many households will have little choice but to pay the increase because those who try to leave before their deal ends face hefty early exit fees. 

If you switch away mid-contract, you often have to pay for the remainder of the deal — which could be hundreds of pounds plus VAT.

Ofcom says firms must set out price increases clearly when customers sign up and cannot bury them in the small print.

Money Mail found that TalkTalk did not mention the annual price rise option until the fifth page of its terms and conditions, while Sky customers must read right to the bottom of ‘the legal bit’ on its website where it says ‘prices may go up during your subscription’.

Sarah Coles, from investment platform Hargreaves Lansdown, says: ‘When you sign up to a contract, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect that the price will stay fixed while you’re locked into it. 

But that’s not how an awful lot of telecoms companies work. They argue it’s in the small print and that increasing prices with inflation is fair, but that’s not how it feels.’

Virgin Media is the only big provider not to include annual price hikes in its terms and conditions. Under Ofcom rules, it can still raise prices midway through a deal, but customers are allowed to cancel without penalty within 30 days of the announcement.

Last week Dan Sellick, from Earlsfield in South-West London, received a letter from Virgin Media to say his broadband bill would go up 12 per cent from March.

The 29-year-old, who works in theatre production, says: ‘Telecoms firms should be committing to the price customers signed up for rather than increasing prices months in. 

‘There is already a huge amount of pressure on families, given the rising cost of living, and it would be an easy win for providers to cancel this year’s increase.’

Haggling for a cheap deal revealed secret customer discounts

By AMELIA MURRAY

Can you really haggle your way to a better broadband and phone deal?

A report by consumer group Which? this week claimed you can make significant savings by simply making a nuisance of yourself and threatening to switch supplier.

It said half of customers who have haggled reported average annual savings of £85 on broadband, £128 on TV and broadband packages and £35 on mobile bills.

And this is exactly how I bagged a better deal for a cheaper price late last year.

I’ve been a Sky Broadband customer for almost four years. When my (very) cheap £13.50-a-month deal ended, my bill rose to £25 a month — £138 more a year for the same service.

After calling to barter down the price, I was eventually offered a superfast connection that usually costs £33 a month discounted to £24.

A modest £12 a year saving for a faster service. Admittedly, it wasn’t all smooth sailing.

When I was put through to the manager to approve the deal, he tried to say it was a mistake and that the lowest he could go was £28 a month. But after standing my ground and making a formal complaint, I got the deal I’d been promised. Success!

Curious to see if my haggling power would work on other suppliers, I gave BT, Talk Talk, Sky and Virgin Media a call this week to see if they would beat the prices advertised online.

It was here I discovered that many firms offer a secret discount exclusively to customers who call up to negotiate — unusual given so many companies these days typically reserve their best prices for internet users. The friendly call handler at BT told me it does not match rivals’ prices but that he could offer ‘special prices’ that are not available online.

If I went for its Full Fibre deal I would get a £10-a-month discount — a £240 saving over the 24-month contract. And its basic Fibre Essential bundle would be reduced from £27.99 a month to £24.99.

However, he said there was no guarantee these offers would be available if I called another day.

TalkTalk also offers over-the-phone discounts. Its Fibre 65 package is advertised as £24-a-month online. But when I called it was cut to £22. And its Fibre 35 deal was reduced from £22 a month to £21.

Virgin Media cannot yet supply broadband in my area. But it can offer special deals over the phone depending on what customers want.

I tried my luck again with Sky despite renewing my deal with them only recently.

They wouldn’t cut my bills but I was offered a discounted broadband ‘boost’ which guarantees wi-fi in every room, among other perks, for £5 a month.

Sky said it could give me this for £3 a month plus a £36 credit — effectively making it free for a year. As it meant tying into another contract, I declined.

But it goes to show there is never any harm in asking for a cheaper price — because as my experience shows, you just might get it.   

Bumper profits

BT’s latest results revealed pre-tax profits of £1.8 billion, while Vodafone reported gains of €4.4 billion (£3.6 billion). Sky made a £206 million profit before tax according to accounts up to December 2020.

Critics also say telecoms giants are being shown up by smaller suppliers. KCOM, which is based in East Yorkshire and has 250,000 customers, has cancelled its 9.3 per cent price hike this year to help customers it says are burdened by rising household costs.

And Zen Internet, which has 85,000 residential customers, offers a lifetime price guarantee that means the cost of its 12-, 18- and 24-month contracts remain the same for the length of the deal.

SSE also pledges not to hike prices during its 18-month deals. And Cuckoo, which has fewer than 100,000 customers, offers fixed prices for 12 months.

Ernest Doku, telecoms expert at Uswitch.com, says: ‘Most households will be bearing the brunt of unprecedented mid-contract rises to their broadband bills this spring.

‘While consumer gas and electricity rates have risen across the board owing to the surge in wholesale energy prices, telecom providers will struggle to justify the hikes.’

Penalties: If you switch away mid-contract, you often have to pay for the remainder of the deal - which could be hundreds of pounds plus VAT

Penalties: If you switch away mid-contract, you often have to pay for the remainder of the deal – which could be hundreds of pounds plus VAT

Watchdog call

Lyndsey Burton, managing director of comparison site Choose, is calling on regulator Ofcom to block or cap the increases.

She says: ‘The pandemic has demonstrated how reliant we are on broadband and mobile services to keep us connected to each other. 

‘Ofcom concede these are ‘essential’ services. Yet they are failing in their duty to support customers’ ability to budget for them.’

Campaigners are also calling for more to be done to help the most vulnerable customers, such as those who rely on a landline and do not use the internet.

Mr James adds: ‘Providers could cancel these annual rises to help struggling customers. They have clearly done well over the past few years with more people dependent on their broadband connection.’

BT says prices for its most financially vulnerable customers will stay as they are. This includes those with its BT Home Essentials, for people on certain benefits, BT Basic or Home Phone Saver deals.

Virgin is also committed to protecting vulnerable customers and has frozen the price of its Essential broadband package for those who claim Universal Credit.

TalkTalk says it is still working through details but is taking into consideration customers’ vulnerability. Vodafone says those who need extra payment support can speak to its specialist team.

When price hikes will hit… and what you can do to save money 

BT, EE and Plusnet customers will be hit by a 9.3 per cent price hike from March 31. This is in line with December’s 5.4 per cent rate of inflation plus 3.9 per cent.

The average BT and EE broadband customer will pay an extra £3.50 a month, or £42 a year. Plusnet customers will pay an extra £2.40 a month, or £28.80 a year on average.

Yet customers with pricier packages face a bigger bill.

Those with BT’s £85.99 a month Full Fibre 900 Halo 3+ broadband deal will pay £96 more a year. TalkTalk is also increasing prices by inflation plus 3.7 per cent, or 9.1 per cent in total.

For families with its £40-a-month Fibre 900 deal, bills will rise by around £44 a year.

Sky customers are yet to hear of any bill hikes, but last year saw prices rise by no more than £6 a month. 

In its key document information emailed to customers it says ‘prices and services may vary including during the minimum term’.

Virgin Media plans to increase broadband, TV and phone prices by an average of £56 a year from March 1. Customers can switch away before February 15 at no cost. 

Vodafone customers who took out a home broadband plan after February 2 last year will see bills increase by around £30 a year from April.

Those who took out a contract before face a price increase based on the RPI inflation rate due to be published in March.

New rules mean phone, broadband and TV providers must contact customers to warn them when their contract is ending and signpost them to better deals.

Lobby group Which? found that Virgin Media customers who switched to a cheaper deal when their broadband offer ended saved more than £190 a year.

Those who switched from BT and Sky saved £160 and £100 a year respectively.

Your first step should be to use a comparison site such as Uswitch or Cable.co.uk to find the best deal in your area.

Consider what internet speed you need. Standard broadband is between ten Megabits per second (Mbps) and 29 Mbps.

Larger families who download films and use multiple devices are likely to need faster speeds of between 35 Mbps and 65 Mbps.

Once you have found a good deal, check cashback sites such as Quidco and Topcashback to see if you could earn extra money by switching via their websites.

Mobile madness

Mobile phone providers are hitting customers with even harsher price hikes. This is because many raise costs in line with the retail price index (RPI) measure of inflation, which is typically higher than CPI. In December, RPI was running at 7.5 per cent.

Virgin says it is raising mobile phone bills on April 1 by RPI inflation plus 3.9 per cent. It will use the January inflation figure, which is yet to be published.

O2 customers who signed up after March 25 will be hit by the same rise. Those who joined before will see prices increase by RPI inflation alone.

Tesco Mobile says it does not hike prices mid-contract. But customers will be charged more than double for calls made outside their allowance from February 9.

It currently costs 25p per minute plus a 10p minimum charge to make phone calls above your usage limit. This will increase to 55p per minute plus a 27p minimum fee.

Ms Coles says: ‘It’s especially cruel to hit people with hikes linked to RPI: an out-of-date measure of inflation that isn’t used for any of their income.’

broadband

An Ofcom spokesman says: ‘Companies do need to invest in their networks, but this is a difficult time for many people to deal with price rises. So we expect firms to promote cheaper social tariffs for eligible customers and make it swift and simple to sign up.’

A BT spokesman says: ‘As usage across our networks continues to increase and with our customers relying on us for connectivity more than ever, it’s crucial we continue to invest in our networks, services and the latest technology. 

‘As such, and in line with our terms, our prices for existing customers will be increasing from March 31.’

Virgin says with rising costs and customers using their services more than ever, it reviews its pricing to fuel further investment in its network and services.

A Vodafone UK spokesman says: ‘The prices reflect the rising costs we continue to face in running our network.’

TalkTalk says it is still working through the details of the increases and will update customers in March. Sky declined to comment. 

Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.

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Experts at Uswitch.com have provided a handy lowdown detailing how meter readings work and how to deal with them to ensure your bills remain accurate.

If you are on a standard meter and do not send meter readings to your supplier, you’ll most likely end up with an estimated bill, which could mean you end up over-paying or under-paying

Under-paying might sound like a good thing, but unfortunately at some point your energy supplier will want their money, leaving you with an unexpected bill to pay.

How to take a meter reading 

It is important to be able to read your electricity meter and gas meter to make sure your bills are accurate. 

Once you know how to take a meter reading, it is easy to submit the reading to your supplier. Many providers offer a meter reading upload feature on their app or when you log in to your online account, so there is usually no need to call.

There are a number of different types of energy meters out there. These range from modern smart meters, which tell you how much energy you are using in real-time, to prepayment meters, which you need to top up manually.

How to read a gas meter 

Gas meters, as their name suggests, provide gas readings relevant to the home they are connected to. They tell you and your energy supplier how much gas your home is using.

If you do not have a smart meter, you should ensure that you read your gas meter and send regular readings to your supplier to make sure that your energy bills are accurate. If you don’t your supplier will estimate your bills and you may end up paying too much, or too little. This will catch up to you when your supplier takes a gas meter reading and you may end up with a huge heating bill to pay!

It is worth noting that if you only pay for electricity, i.e. your home does not use gas, then you won’t have a gas meter.

Remember that you will not need to know how to read a gas meter if you have a smart meter, as readings are sent automatically to your supplier. 

How to read an electricity meter  

Your electricity meter is your first port of call.

In much the same way that a gas meter will tell you how much gas you have used, your electricity meter is the instrument that tells you how much electricity your household has consumed.

Again, it is important that you know how to read your electricity meter and send readings regularly to your electricity supplier. 

If you have a smart electric meter, your supplier will receive your meter readings automatically – you don’t have to do anything.

Source: Uswitch.com 

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Customers of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) including Sky, Virgin Media and BT are being urged to check their bills without delay. That’s due to millions facing a shock price hike in the coming weeks and months as their current contracts come to an end.

According to the team at comparethemarket.com, some 10 million broadband customers took out new deals during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to help cope with the demands of spending more time at home.

In fact, a survey of more than 2,000 broadband customers found that 41 percent of households have switched broadband providers in the last two years.

Many of these users will have got money-saving discounts which are often used to lure new customers over to an ISP.

However, once these initial offers come to an end, a standard price will then be applied which will often be far more expensive than the original deal.

As a good example, Virgin Media is currently offering speedy 100Mbps broadband for just £26.99 per month but at the end of the 18-month deal this jumps to a whopping £44 per month – that’s a rise of almost £20.

With most homes signing up to two year or 18-month plans many could be facing some serious bill sock if they don’t renegotiate their contract or switch to a new supplier.

New rules introduced by Ofcom mean ISPs now have to inform you that your current deal is ending with a message sent via email or text. If you receive one of these alerts then it’s vital to check how much you’ll pay once things come to end. If you’re not happy with the new price then take a look at what is available elsewhere and consider changing providers.

Calling your current ISP is also a good idea as they will almost certainly offer a cheaper deal to keep you.

Speaking about the issue, Mubina Pirmohamed, head of digital at comparethemarket.com, said: “In the last two years we have seen a surge in households changing broadband provider. Working from home tested people’s broadband reliability, with many deciding to switch in a bid to find a better provider.

“Those who switched are now nearing the end of their initial contract periods and may face significant price-hikes if they choose to stick with their current provider. Shopping around online and switching to a better deal can help people to improve broadband speed and save money.

“At a time when bills are going up across the board – from energy to supermarket trips – it is important to see if you can get better value for money by switching broadband provider.”



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Former boss of Unilever wades into row over Government’s plans to give police new powers to clamp down on demonstrators










The former boss of Unilever has this weekend waded into a row over the Government’s plans to give the police new powers to clamp down on demonstrators. 

Paul Polman, 65, says he has ‘profound concerns’ over Home Secretary Priti Patel’s Policing Bill, adding that it ‘threatens the right to peaceful protest’. 

He called on peers in a House of Lords vote on Monday to throw out parts of the bill, which he says restrict people’s ‘most fundamental rights’ to stand up for their beliefs. 

Speaking out: Paul Polman says he has 'profound concerns' over Home Secretary Priti Patel's Policing Bill, adding that it 'threatens the right to peaceful protest'

Speaking out: Paul Polman says he has ‘profound concerns’ over Home Secretary Priti Patel’s Policing Bill, adding that it ‘threatens the right to peaceful protest’

The Dutch industrialist was at the helm of the FTSE consumer goods giant for a decade, during which time it gained a reputation as one of the most woke businesses in Britain.

His intervention into UK politics is highly unusual for a former captain of industry. It came just days after Unilever was savaged by leading shareholder Terry Smith for putting wokery ahead of profits. Deborah Meaden, the Dragons’ Den star and entrepreneur, is also campaigning against the proposed clampdown, claiming it is ‘bad for business’. 

The bill was prompted by public frustration at the toppling of statues and disruptive protests by Insulate Britain, BLM and other groups. 

Its opponents include the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Muslim Council of Britain, the Church of England and other faith leaders who have urged the Government to ‘think again’. Faith leaders argue the bill could criminalise a range of religious activities including street preaching and chanting. 

‘Kill the Bill’ demonstrations are planned across Britain today ahead of the vote in the Lords. A letter signed by Polman, Meaden and 200 business owners calls on the Lords to amend the bill, removing any ‘anti-protest’ provisions. 

Polman, who earned a total of around £70m in his time at the head of Unilever, said: ‘No enlightened business should support disproportionate infringements on this right. Would Unilever have, on its own, woken up to the plastics crisis, if our consumers and employees had not demanded we take notice? The honest answer is no, we would not. 

‘Companies benefit from having channels through which civil society can make itself heard.’ 

Polman and Meaden are opposing the law change which would set start and finish times for protests, as well as noise limits. It also threatens up to 10 years in jail for damage to memorials. 

Critics say the bill is an attack on the right to protest and that it effectively criminalises any demonstration that police deem to be causing disruption. Campaigners also argue it would give the police the power to stop and search anybody they thought was attending a protest. Meaden argued the right to protest is an ‘essential part’ of business and that it spurs innovation. The Government argues the bill will uphold the right to peaceful protest while giving police the power to stop disruption and violence. 

The letter of protest has not been signed by Unilever. However, it has been endorsed by one of its best-known brands, Ben & Jerry’s. The ice-cream maker has already attacked Patel on Twitter in 2020 over migrant boats crossing the Channel. 

And its refusal to sell its wares in the ‘Occupied Palestinian Territory’ was cited by Terry Smith as one instance of ‘ludicrous’ woke behaviour.

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A cladding victim has revealed that she faces possible bankruptcy in the next 18 months even if the Government pays for her repair bill.

Charlotte Meehan, 33, said owners of flats in her block in East London were being ‘bled dry’ by the soaring cost of interim fire safety measures that have been in place while they were waiting for remediation works to begin.

Those interim measures had so far racked up bills of nearly £500,000 for residents for a waking watch at the Bow development, she said.

They are being levied on top of the standard service charge and she is also worried that a huge bill may arrive for other fire defects that are not cladding and covered by any Government help.

Charlotte Meehan, 33, (pictured) said owners of flats in her block in East London were being 'bled dry' by the soaring cost of interim fire safety measures

Charlotte Meehan, 33, (pictured) said owners of flats in her block in East London were being ‘bled dry’ by the soaring cost of interim fire safety measures

Mrs Meehan issued the warning that she – and many others like her, including her husband who she bought the flat with – face bankruptcy in the months ahead, despite welcoming the housing secretary’s announcement this week. 

Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, said that leaseholders were ‘trapped’ and that it was time to protect them and make ‘industry pay’.

He announced that leaseholders living in blocks under 18m – including Mrs Meehan’s block at 15m – would not have to pay their cladding repair bills. Only those living in buildings above 18 metres had previously access to the Fire Safety Fund.

He said: ‘We will scrap proposals for loans and long-term debt for leaseholders in medium-rise buildings and give a guarantee that no leaseholder living in their own flat will pay a penny to fix dangerous cladding.’ 

It is welcome news for affected leaseholders who faced financially crippling bills for remediation works, often running into hundreds of thousands of pounds.

However, the current reality for many of these flat owners is that they still face massive bills to cover interim fire measures such as waking watches.

Mr Gove’s announcement this week was welcomed by Mrs Meehan and her husband, but she said that soaring service charges were already beginning to take their toll.

Their service charges cover the cost of a waking watch, which she claimed has already cost her development of 96 units in East London almost £500,000 for the last 18 months. 

The couple bought the one-bedroom flat in 2016 for £362,000, and has seen costs already run into thousands of pounds – and that’s even before the cost of the remediation works.  

Other developments affected by the cladding crisis are also seeing their insurance costs soar.

A waking watch bill for the building’s residents running at £293,500 per year, including VAT, has led to charges of about £490,000 over the past 20 months. 

Speaking exclusively to MailOnline Property, Mrs Meehan said: ‘I am cautiously optimistic about Gove’s announcement as it at least brings us into the conversation, I still don’t know if it goes far enough to force the developers to pay.’

‘We want full remediation costs, as well as those historic, present and future costs for safety measures put in place while we wait for them to remediate.

‘Our argument has always been that we are a connected building to a block that is more than 18 metres.

‘Remediating the section of the building that is above 18 metres and leaving the rest that is under 18 metres means the spread of fire is still significant.’

But she added: ‘There are some key elements missing from Gove’s announcement, including other fire safety defects outside of cladding not being included. Two thirds of our bill would be for fire defect repairs outside of cladding. It is a concern that leaseholders may still have to pay for those.’ 

‘Another is that we are being bled dry. I have not seen any cleaners in our communal areas for months. You can imagine what it looks like. It is ten years old anyway and is covered in graffiti. It is in a dire state of disrepair.

‘What happens to people like us who have no money left to do normal repairs as it has all gone our waking watch?

Since the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, concerns about cladding have become a national issue

Since the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, concerns about cladding have become a national issue

She suggested that the development’s £500,000 waking watch bill has left its reserve funds ‘decimated’.

She went on to explain: ‘These interim costs are extortionate and are bankrupting people now. Gove is not looking at those and that is my big concern.

‘Our service charges doubled last year and yet our salaries haven’t, so we can’t afford to pay them. We won’t have anything left.

These interim costs are extortionate and are bankrupting people now. Gove is not looking at those and that is my big concern

‘Not only have we got service charges rising to cover the cost of these extra fire safety measures while we wait to see if we are going to be remediated, the service charges are also rising as the reserve funds have been used and there is nothing to pay for normal everyday maintenance work.

‘The Government needs to look at all aspects that have affected leaseholders as a result of the fire safety building crisis. 

‘We have some savings but it is only a little bit of money to cover something like if our boiler packed up or to help us start a family.

‘We would not be able to pay should we receive an unexpected £10,000 service charge bill, and I don’t know how they expect us to come up with all this money.’

The cost of her remediation works are on top of any current service charge bills. Any fire safety measures outside of cladding systems, such as combustible insulation or missing cavity barriers, are unlikely to be covered by Gove’s latest funding announcement. 

The waking watch at her development has so far cost £244,608 a year plus VAT, a total of £293,500, and has been in place for 20 months.

Mrs Meehan said: ‘People are already out of pocket and even going bankrupt just due to interim measures.

‘The interim safety measures are bankrupting people, not just the remediation costs. You are meant to feel safe in your home but we can’t relieve ourselves of this financial burden. We have been forced to be here through no fault of our own and it is torture.’

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Ministers plan U-turn over whether to include internet scams in the Online Safety Bill










Ministers are preparing to make a U-turn and include investment scams in the Online Safety Bill.

Hundreds of thousands of would-be investors are being conned out of their savings every year by internet adverts purporting to be from legitimate financial services firms.

The Government previously shied away from forcing internet giants to check the validity of adverts on their websites.

Online fraud: The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport has maintained that most financial harms will not be included in the Online Safety Bill

Online fraud: The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport has maintained that most financial harms will not be included in the Online Safety Bill

But ministers are under pressure to include online scams in the Bill to halt a ‘pandemic’ of fraud. Whitehall and City sources told the Mail they are expecting paid-for adverts, hosted by the likes of Google, Bing and Facebook, to be included in the Bill.

This would force internet firms to check whether adverts they show are ‘real’ – and stop taking money from criminals.

Some of these scammers pose as household names, such as Aviva or Hargreaves Lansdown, while others use their own name but set up a professional-looking website.

Savers click on the adverts, thinking they are investing their money in a legitimate business – and often only find out months later that in fact they gave all their cash away to a criminal.

Conmen stole a total of £753.9million from British savers through fraud in the first half of this year alone, according to trade association UK Finance – and most of these scams originated online.

Under former culture secretary Oliver Dowden, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) – which is leading on the creation of the Bill – maintained that most financial harms will not be included.

But Nadine Dorries, who took over last September, is understood to be more receptive to the idea.

Two sources in the banking industry told the Mail that Treasury ministers have also come round to including rip-offs such as investment fraud and mobile phone text scams in the Bill, and are lobbying their counterparts in other government departments.

One source added that Treasury ministers were ‘leaning on’ their ministerial colleagues in the DCMS.

A joint committee of MPs and peers released a report last month urging ministers to broaden the scope of the up-coming legislation. 

DCMS said it would consider the recommendations of the committee, and is expected to issue a response around February.

The Treasury declined to comment last night.

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Households that are panicked about the soaring cost of energy are now facing billing chaos. 

Complaints about energy bill blunders have soared to a record high, with reports rising by 30 per cent.

Money Mail readers say they have been sent inflated demands for thousands of pounds, and had to chase for months to find out what they really owe.

Many of these customers even have a smart meter installed, which is supposed to ensure their bills are accurate.

Monthly bills quadrupled: After having a smart meter installed, former police Peter Howard, 82, (pictured) was told his monthly payments would go from £62 to £285

Monthly bills quadrupled: After having a smart meter installed, former police Peter Howard, 82, (pictured) was told his monthly payments would go from £62 to £285

It comes as wholesale gas price rises drive a cost-of-living crisis, with the average annual domestic fuel bill predicted to hit close to £2,000 this year.

Gillian Cooper, head of energy policy at Citizens Advice, says: ‘There’s clear evidence that billing systems and processes at some suppliers have not been fit for purpose. 

‘Ofgem [the energy regulator] must ensure suppliers are following its rules on providing accurate bills.’

Charged £2,200 instead of £75

Pensioner Carol Leach says she got the fright of her life when British Gas attempted to take more than £2,000 from her account two weeks ago.

Shock £2k demand: Joanna Williams's smart meter failed to record her usage

Shock £2k demand: Joanna Williams’s smart meter failed to record her usage

The 77-year-old former administrator had paid People’s Energy between £70 and £80 a month before the firm collapsed.

She then moved to British Gas, which estimated she would owe £2,195 a month.

When Carol called the supplier to query this, she was reassured it was an error and that her monthly bill would be around £75. 

However, a week later, she was told she would have to pay the original £2,195.

Carol says: ‘I was terrified. This is more than three months’ pension for me.’

British Gas apologises that the initial adviser did not correct the error, and has offered Carol £30 as a goodwill gesture.

Former police officer Peter Howard, 82, was hit with an energy bill for thousands of pounds in December 2020 — and a year on the blunder was still unresolved.

He contested the £2,130 charge from EDF after it arrived and thought it was sorted. In May, he had a smart meter fitted. But a month later, he was told his monthly bills would more than quadruple, from £62 to £285.

In November, a £67 bill arrived, and in December, he received a monthly estimate for £92.

He says: ‘I asked EDF why I was still getting estimated bills when I had a smart meter and was told there were ‘errors’. But everything seems to be an error. This is an appalling way to treat anyone, let alone an elderly couple.’

Peter’s current direct debit is set at £70 a month and EDF has paid him £130 as a goodwill gesture. The firm says: ‘We’re sorry for any inconvenience caused.’

Temperature's rising: Complaints about energy bill blunders have soared to a record high, with reports increasing by 30%

Temperature’s rising: Complaints about energy bill blunders have soared to a record high, with reports increasing by 30%

Soaring number of complaints

The Energy Ombudsman logged a huge 18,944 complaints about power firms between July and September last year. 

This is the highest number of disputes recorded in any three-month period since its records began in 2018.

In total, it received 68,480 complaints about firms last year — 33 per cent more than in 2020.

Bills are the most commonly reported issue, making up more than half of cases in 2021.

One in three billing problems involves disputes about gas and electricity usage.

Complaints website Resolver has also reported a rise in gripes about inaccurate bills.

Martyn James, of Resolver, says: ‘It is about time suppliers sorted out these long-running mistakes and agreed on a simpler system to stop households being regularly overcharged.’ 

An Ofgem spokesman says: ‘We are aware that billing issues can be a cause for complaint. Suppliers must bill their customers accurately. We monitor this and take action where appropriate.’ 

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