In our Consumer Fightback column, Helen Dewdney – otherwise known as the Complaining Cow – will arm readers with the knowledge they need to solve problems with companies.
This week, she gives her advice on how to hit back against a common consumer complaint – issues with gas and electricity bills.
From price cap changes, to switching energy suppliers and incorrect billing to complaining to suppliers – our mailbox is full of gripes…
Energy: Many readers have had problems with their gas and electricity bills over the years
Sorting out gas and electricity problems shouldn’t drain your energy
My last column dealt with your telecoms issues. The This is Money inbox has plenty of shocking stories in the telecoms sector, but the other sector that’s nearly as bad is energy companies.
Like telecoms, many energy companies are complacent, relying on the fact that most people won’t bother switching to get better pricing or customer service.
However, according to the Ofgem website there are around 60 active suppliers in the energy market. So, there is even more choice of energy companies available than you might have thought.
Here are my 20 top tips and information for getting the best energy deals and how to complain effectively if things go wrong with your supplier.
1) It is easier than you think to switch. If you haven’t switched for years, the chances are that you could save a lot of money by switching. There are a number of sites that can compare tariffs, ethics and customer service. This is Money’s energy switching service with our partner Energy Helpline can help you check the best deals in your postcode and let you filter for green energy deals.
Many energy companies are signed up to the voluntary Energy Switch Guarantee where standards are set to make the process as easy as possible within set time limits.
2) Since 2010 energy companies must send you an annual statement for each fuel which shows all the information you need to switch, including your tariff and total annual consumption.
3) When you switch, make sure you look at getting gas and electricity from the same supplier too as this is likely to result in a discount.
4) Use cashback sites such as Topcashback, Quidco, and Kidstart (Kidstart cashback goes to your nominated child’s bank account). Sign up for free and use whichever one gives the biggest cashback! (Be aware that some may not work with additional discounts so don’t rely on this). Comparison websites will have different offers on the same tariffs, so it is worth using more than one and also checking with the company directly.
5) Since 1 May 2018 all energy suppliers must follow Ofgem’s back billing rules. If your supplier has not sent you a bill for more than a year (including reasons such as not dealing with a complaint about a faulty meter and thereby allowing a debt to build up) then you do not have to pay.
There are circumstances where this principle wouldn’t apply though, such as if you have made no attempt to make payment or have been obstructive and not allowed the supplier to read the meter or if you are using stolen energy!
6) Meters are checked for accuracy before being installed. Mistakes do of course occur! If you think that the meter is not accurately measuring your consumption, turn off all your appliances and see if the meter is still recording usage. If it is, write to your supplier with the evidence and request a test to be carried out in your home.
7) When you move home, make sure you take a note of the electricity and gas meter readings as you move out, together with a dated photo for added evidence. Do the same when you arrive at the new home too. Be sure to sign up with a supplier when you move in, otherwise you will be on a more expensive ‘deemed’ tariff.
Save: Households are advised to switch energy supplier regularly to save money on their bills
Your general energy rights
8) Energy companies are covered by the Consumer Rights Act 2015 so you are entitled to services to be carried out with reasonable skill and care.
9) Consumers are covered by the Consumer Contracts (Information Cancellation and Additional charges) Regulations 2013 which provide you with a 14 days cooling off period.
10) If you have made a purchasing decision you would not have made had you been given accurate information or not put under unfair pressure to do so you’ve been misled and you can claim redress under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.
11) The Priority Services Register is for vulnerable people (people who are of pensionable age, are registered disabled, have a hearing or visual impairment, or have long term ill- health). It includes lots of benefits including entitlement to a free annual gas check, priority re-connection and free advice. Register with your supplier.
12) The Ofgem Standards of Conduct are guaranteed standards of service levels that must be met by each supplier. If it fails to meet the level of service required it must make a compensation payment.
The below is from the Standards:
The Standards of Conduct are standards of service levels that must be met by each supplier
Power cuts and your rights
13) In the case of a cut in your gas or electricity supply, it is your distribution network operator (DNO), not the supplier, who is responsible. Complain to them, if necessary. You can find out who your gas transporter is here and electricity supplier here.
14) In the event of an unplanned power cut you are entitled to set amounts of compensation, paid by your supplier. For electricity this varies depending upon the number of homes affected, how long you are without supply and how Ofgem categorises a storm.
15) For gas power cuts you will be paid £30 plus £30 for each 24-hour period without gas. More on power cuts (e.g. multiple cuts) can be found on Ofgem Know Your Rights Power Cuts page.
16) If you are on the Priority Services Register or a cut was due to bad weather you should receive the payment automatically. Keep an eye out though and claim if you don’t receive it.
17) For an automatic payment, you should be paid with 10 days of the end of the power supply cut and within 10 days from any claim. If not, make sure you get the extra £30 entitlement for a breach of the Quality of Service Guaranteed Standards!
18) If you have more than four power cuts in one year, where your supplier is to blame, you are entitled to £75 in compensation (the year runs from 1 April to 31 March).
19) If your existing account is in credit, you can ask for a refund. Ofgem says this should be paid promptly unless there are reasonable grounds not to do so. Check the supplier company’s policy for complaining about refunds if you are in credit with an account you have closed.
Complaining and taking the matter further
20) Ensure that you keep all your complaints in writing. (More tips for writing the complaint). Keeping a log is essential, as you may need this evidence in future. Threaten to go to the Energy Ombudsman if the supplier does not provide a satisfactory response.
You should request a deadlock letter if fewer than eight weeks have elapsed since you first raised the complaint. If it is more than eight weeks since you raised the complaint then you can take the matter straight to the Ombudsman. The company must pay you within 28 days of the ombudsman’s decision.
You can be awarded up to £10,000 to return you to the position you would have been in had the company not made the mistake(s). It can also reflect the inconvenience caused by the company.
Forewarned is forearmed! In energy, as with all products and services, ensure that you are using all the tools available to get the best deal and make sure you gain proper redress if things go wrong.
Get help with your problem
Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow, is writing This is Money’s new Consumer Fight Back column.
Helen is the author of best-seller How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results! and runs The Complaining Cow blog.
Helen Dewdney, right, runs The Complaining Cow site and has written a best-selling book – she is here to help This is Money readers
Helen can help with your consumer complaints. Rather than do all the work for you, she will empower you to gain refunds, repairs, replacements or improved service by explaining how to complain and get results.
If you have a problem you need help solving, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with Consumer Fight Back in the subject line, include a short paragraph about your issue – if we need more details we will get in touch.
If the company fails to act, she will then ask them why and what they plan to do.
Find Helen on:
Youtube: Helen Dewdney
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