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Monday 10 December 2018

Darragh McCullough: Baffled, bamboozled and bewildered by utility bill and insurance jargon

'Finding a bill that shows what you've actually used over the last year can be like looking for the fourth secret of Fatima'
'Finding a bill that shows what you've actually used over the last year can be like looking for the fourth secret of Fatima'
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Is there anything as maddening as the modern-day utility or insurance bill?

My phone bill complete with mobiles, dongles and landlines used to scare me when they arrived in the post with the sheer heft of them.

Seventy and eighty pages is the average for my farm business. God bless the poor trees that disappear into them every month.

At least there is vaguely useful information printed on the vast majority of sheets. It may be maddening trying to figure out which dongle corresponds to the latest internet overrun that has to be chased down, but this is child's play compared to extracting information from my latest insurance quote.

There is a small forest of paper in the 92 pages of my latest farm and house quote - and that's before you include the 'handy' explainers on the terms of business.

For good measure they've included five copies of the 12 page booklet outlining the terms and conditions. Unfortunately they couldn't find space in any of the five identical booklets for the terms of business covering... my motor policies. That required another pair of identical booklets.

And I've just noticed the 'plain English' logo dutifully approved by the National Adult Literacy Agency stamped on each one. Hilarious.

It might make sense if I was ever going to read them, but on the basis that there's more to life than trawling through endless reams of legalise and insurance jargon, I'll just put my faith in the relationship I have with my FBD rep.

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Is this foolish? Quite possibly. But in the same way that nobody bar some IT anorak ever reads the endless T&Cs that you scroll through every time you download an app or update on your phone, drowning the customer in print to get the car insured doesn't make sense.

Before you get notions that I run a vast agricultural empire, consider that I farm about a 250ac operation complete with one tractor, a jeep and three cars.

There's no reason why the 10 separate items in my policy, along with the percentage increase from last year, shouldn't all fit on to a single page summary document. But no. 'Regulations' prevent this kind of actually useful information being provided.

Unfortunately, the pain that our insurance providers put us through doesn't stop there. If you have ever received an email from an insurance provider you'll know what I'm talking about.

Obviously some data-privacy wonk advised them that they had to set up a bespoke email encryption service where you have to put in a password every time you want to open a message.

However, the practicality of remembering yet another password for a job that most right-thinking people will only tolerate once a year is away with the fairies.

After wracking your brains and trying your three most likely passwords, you find yourself locked out of the account and trying to come up with a new password that fits all the minimum requirements.

And all because you got the car serviced and needed to swap in a different vehicle to the policy. Oh for the days when you could just ring up and talk to a familiar voice.

There's a line I didn't expect to be hearing from myself before I start collecting the pension. Blame insurance companies.

However, the insurance industry aren't the only essential service provider making small everyday dealings a miserable ordeal for the punter.

When we were told many moons ago that consumers would be the real beneficiaries of deregulated markets, nobody foresaw the enormous pain in the backside that it has become to switch provider every year for the rest of our living days.

The energy providers have this down to a fine art, where you get nailed for exorbitant rates if you are foolish enough to think that you have better things to occupy your limited memory with apart from the 12 month deadline when each account automatically clicks on to a higher price plan.

And try as you might to compare different offerings from different providers, you'll be gradually worn down with the maze of caveats and options that each company will put your way.

Mobile phone providers figured out years ago pricing plans that were conveniently incomparable to their direct competitors.

Electricity suppliers are at the same game, bamboozling punters with one offering low unit rates, but high meter charges, another the opposite, yet another putting caps on units available at certain rates and more muddying the waters with switching bonuses.

Of course finding a bill that shows what you've actually used over the last year can be like looking for the fourth secret of Fatima, especially if you've unwittingly signed up to paperless billing where all your bills lie in some cloud that you have to register to before getting access. That's yet another password to remember.

And yes, I did start off complaining about the mountains of paper that some service providers seem determined to drown us in, while I'm now giving out about the lack of paper.

Which is the ultimate outcome of all encounters with these service providers: that of feeling like a completely incompetent idiot by the end of it all.

I console myself with the fact that one of the greatest minds that ever graced the planet - Einstein - always found himself completely flummoxed by his electricity bill. We're in good company!

Indo Farming

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