The main energy complaints... and how to beat them - Martyn James
Energy bills are so complicated, it’s hard to know if they are right or not. But here are a few pointers.
The cost of your bill will have increased over the last two years, but if you seem to be using noticeably more energy units than you used to, despite no major lifestyle changes, you should complain.
You can ask your energy provider to clarify in plain English why things have changed. Ask them things like; why your energy usage is higher, if they are relying on estimated readings, if they are billing you for energy used over a year ago and if you’re on the cheapest tariff.
This one drives me mad! If your energy company sends you a new bill that goes back further than 12 months, they should not be charging you for anything other than the last year. This is known as ‘back billing’ and is explicitly forbidden by regulator Ofgem. Yet I’ve seen tons of bills that break the rules.
However, if you have an existing debt that you were correctly billed for at the time, the energy firm can pursue it for up to six years.
It’s impossible to know how many energy meters are a bit wonky. But smart meter complaints alone are the second biggest area of complaint after billing disputes. This could be a technical problem or to do with the meter not transmitting data.
If you complain about this, you will usually be asked to take meter readings every day for around a week to assess the problem. As with any meter dispute, photo your meter readings so you can prove there was a problem if you need to make a complaint.
The energy firm needs to identify and correct the problem. This could involve sending out an engineer to assess the meter’s performance. Even then, the readings might not make sense. So make a formal complaint and ask the firm to spell out their investigation and proposals in writing.
Credit balance refunds
This year, I’ve been flooded with complaints about energy firms sitting on massive credit balances – somethings thousands of pounds. The rules say energy firms should refund you if you ask for the cash within 14 days.
Hold fire on a full refund though. All the energy experts I’ve spoken to suggest keeping at least two months’ worth of credit payments to keep costs down over Winter.
Many people who make complaints tell me that they have continued to receive debt collection letters, which cause a great deal of stress. This is because debt letters are often automated. But this is totally unacceptable and should not be happening.
Tell both the energy provider, solicitor and/or debt collector that you are making a formal complaint. Insist that they confirm the matter will not be pursued while this is investigated with both the energy firm and the Energy Ombudsman in writing.
Financial difficulties and vulnerable customers
Check out my previous columns on dealing with financial difficulties. But briefly, if you don’t have enough money to cover an emergency when you’ve paid your essential outgoings each month then you meet the definition of ‘financial difficulties’. That means the energy firm must come up with tailored solutions to address the problem.
Complaints and the Energy Ombudsman
Energy businesses are obliged to address all complaints in writing unless you agree otherwise. Their ‘final response’ should set out what they’ve done to resolve your complaint and any compensation that they might be offering. This should also tell you about your right to go to the Energy Ombudsman.
The Energy Ombudsman is a totally unbiased, free service and it’s really easy to make a complaint online. Find out more at www.energyombudsman.org/.
Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist. Visit martynjamesexpert.co.uk.
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