Do mistakes with energy bills happen? Sadly, yes, they do – but people often don’t know for sure if the bill is wrong or how to challenge it. In recent months there’s been an explosion of complaints about incorrect energy bills as people receive demands for payments that clearly can’t be right.

So what’s going on? Here’s my guide to your rights if you are overcharged.

What causes the billing errors?

There are three main reasons for the big growth in billing disputes:

  • The pandemic meant that many bills were estimated as meter readers and engineers were grounded by lockdown.
  • Millions of people were switched to new providers, carrying over all the old problems with their bills to a new energy firm, making it harder to figure out what’s gone on.
  • The increase in energy bills by 54% has meant it’s much, much harder for people to know if their bill is wrong or just increasing in line with the energy price cap.

How do I know if there’s been an error with my bill?

Don’t try to become an energy expert overnight. So go with your gut. Your energy bill should not have gone up more than 54% in most cases – so if the following things have happened, you could make a complaint.

Some people on ‘variable’ tariffs have reported big increases in their direct debits. OFGEM has now said that if these payments increased by 100% or more, they should be investigated by the energy firms. While underestimated bills can lead to price hikes, energy firms should not be sneaking in big price rises over the current price cap. Don’t wait if this has happened to you, make a complaint now.

If you’re on a standard tariff and have been hit with a price rise that increases your bill over the 54% – especially if it happened before the price cap was introduced in April – you should ask the firm to explain in writing why it has done this and what other options were available to you.

Have a look on your bill under the ‘energy usage’ section. This will show if your supplier has been relying on estimated readings. Even if the firm was underestimating by a small amount, this can add up dramatically over the years of the pandemic. The business should not just pass on estimate errors to you in increased bills – they have an obligation to get things right too.

Take a common-sense view. If your bill was £800 a year and now it’s £3000, then clearly something is amiss. That’s way over the price cap and though there are lots of reasons why this might be, you should be asking the energy firm to explain what’s going on in straightforward terms.

So what can I do?

Take a proper meter reading from both gas and energy meters (if you have dual fuel). Sense check the readings with your bill. If you’ve got an old analogue meter (with dials like clock faces that go in different directions) it’s easy to make a mistake so don’t rush. If your smart meter display is playing up or not transmitting, then report that too. Make sure you photo the meters so you have another record of the reading.

If you think your meter is faulty, your energy provider may ask you to take daily meter readings for seven days to see if there’s an obvious problem. They should send out engineers to assess the meter’s performance or even do a forensic analysis of your bills.

Energy firms should not be ‘back billing’ you for longer than 12 months from the date on the bill. Back billing is when a firm charges you for energy that you used over 12 months previously – but didn’t bill you for it correctly at the time. Find out more here

If the business doesn’t sort out your problem, then take your complaint to the free Energy Ombudsman – and ask the energy firm to suspend all action against you while the matter is looked in to.

Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist.

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