What Should You Do When You Have Problems With Your Energy Supplier
By Cynthia Taylor
Energy complaints have soared by 16% over the past year, and suppliers profits increased even more, lets look at the most common issues and what to do to tackle them.
Millions of households in the UK are battling with their energy suppliers, the common complaints range from the suppliers issuing enormous bills after they fail to take payments, to confusion over their complex tariffs.
Over the period of a year up to April, complaints increased by 16% compared with the previous year, this is according to figures released by The Observer from the Energy Ombudsman. Suppliers are continuing to benefit from price increases and increased profits. The average bill for duel fuel is about £1,400 annually.
Two supliers who came under fire are SSE and First Utility. First Utility announced that their most popular tariff would increase by 18.6%! this took effect yesterday. And SSE announced a 30% increase in profits last month, from its retail customers but they did not freeze their electricity and gas prices.
Here are some common energy bill issues which cover your rights if you find you have a problem with your supplier.
Your account is in credit
Research done by a price comparison website, found that about ½ of the UK’s households were owed on average about £78.50 by their energy supplier, and 1 in 5 have a credit balance of about £100 or more. The reasons for this is a direct debit, which is designed to help manage household bills, its supposed to help smooth the seasonal variation of usage, however, when the heating is off many have a sizable surplus on their bills.
Ofgem, the energy regulator says that households can request a refund on surplus amounts they have paid in time. But, suppliers differ in the way they deal with this situation.
Ian Peter, who is head of residential energy at British Gas, said households that are more than £100 in credit, at the end of a 12 month plan and have given the supplier a recent meter reading, the sum will automatically be refunded.
NPower on the other hand will automatically refund customers who are on direct debit when their account is £60 or more in credit at their annual review.
E.ON will refund if the accountis just £5 in credit.
Experts recommend that customer be careful when requesting refunds, or a reduction of their direct debit, as the surplus can be put towards future energy usage. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you are in debt and owe your supplier because you have underpaid.
A sudden demand for energy usage that is unbilled
This is a common issue for struggling consumers who are battling to make ends meet. They find they have a hefty bill for energy supplied after a period that their supplier has not taken payment.
There is a factsheet at Ofgem, with Energy UK and Consumer Futures (they were previously Consumer Focus) on the issue of ‘back billing’. Ofgem says that if the supplier is at fault, they should not be demanding payment for energy that is unbilled over 12 months or more before the supplier has detected the error.
Each case should be considered individually. The rule for ‘back billing’ applies, for example, when a supplier has not acted when a consumer has queried the fault, as a result a large debt has built up as a result. Of if a customer has requested a bill but they have not sent one to the customer.
Project manager for the BBC, Matthew fudge, switched suppliers to EDF last September. He said that up to date he has not received an electricity bill and only one gas bill in this period. He says that he has contacted EDF numerous times and was assured that it would be sorted out. He says he is still waiting for that to happen.
A few months after September he was told that the supply had been ‘transferred erroneously’ to another supplier, and was assured it would be resolved. Up to February he had not heard anything further, and still not heard anything up to now. He said that he is happy never to pay an energy bill but is worried what to do now?
EDF says that the bills were never produced because of a ‘system error’ and that the situation has now been rectified. They have apologized and have offered a gesture of goodwill of £75.
You have received a bill that is based on estimated usage
Research done by an online energy comparison site showed that about ¼ of households were billed incorrectly by energy companies in the past two years. And the number of people who owed money to a energy supplier, after a discrepancy betweenthe estimated bill and the real bill, has increased to about £10m last year
It was found that some suppliers were worse than others, when they reviewed their customers’ accounts with regards to ensuring that the direct debit payments are accurately reflected to the usage of energy. In a worst case scenario a consumer could find themselves in debt to more than they can afford. It is recommend that customers check their bills when they arrive, check the estimated readings and compare them to the actual readings to prevent a large credit or debit building up.
At the end of a payment year, if they still owe money, depending on the company some will automatically deduct a lump sum from the direct debit account, others might be willing to spread the debt over the following year.
As a customer, you are entitled to request a repayment plan. If the direct debit amount has to be changed, the supplier must explain why.
To avoid getting into debit, supply regular meter readings, do this at least 4 times a year to avoid bill headaches.
Faulty pre-payment meter
Some people prefer to use a pre-payment meter, they say it helps them to budget, and some are forced to use the pre-payment meters because they have have failed a suppliers credit check and are thus considered a risk for non payment and will get into debit. Some may already be in debt to their supplier and have been switched by their supplier, which an arrangement that part of the payment into the meter is used to offset the debt and the other part to be put towards usage.
Some consumers find that their meter that the supplier has fitted is faulty. They may find that the screen is blank or it shows an error message. Ofgem says that the supplier is obligated to supply the customer information on how they can get assistance if the meter is not operating effectively. This includes information of times scales for the removal and the resetting of the meter, whatever is necessary.
Making a complaint
When a customer has problems with their energy bill, the first step is to contact the supplier to discuss what their options. Another avenue is to contact the Citizens Advice for help and guidance on 08454 040506.
Customers are also able to take their complaints for free to the energy ombudsman, however, that can only be used if the problem persists unsolved after 8 weeks of if the supplier has sent the consumer a ‘deadlock letter’ saying that they cannot do more.
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