In the last few weeks, the news has been filled with some absolutely horrifying stories about ludicrous energy bills that clearly can’t possibly be true.

What’s particularly frustrating is the abject failure of some energy firms to acknowledge that these bills are wrong. Often a basic check to see if a meter is ‘working’ is enough for some legitimate complaints to be dismissed.

However, you should always fight back. I’ve been working on a few shocking cases for the next two seasons of Rip Off Britain (out in August and October!) But until then, check out my guide on what to do if your bill doesn’t seem right.

How to turn detective if you bill seems wrong

Many of the people I speak to who are worried about energy prices feel bamboozled by their bills. This is because energy billing is complicated and can be affected by lots of random elements. But don’t worry, here’s what you can do.

Start with the meter readings. If you have an ancient meter (like me) then it’s really easy to read the dials wrong. So photo your gas and energy meter dials and send those to the firm. Most energy businesses can check pictures for you to see if they match up with the right reading.

We still have a bit of a ‘service hangover’ from the pandemic. So your energy supplier may well have been working off estimates for a long time. If that’s the case, then you may be able to appeal the bill even if the meter turns out to be working properly. Dig out the bills and check when the meter was last read by the firm. There’ll be a code on your bill that explains whether the readings are estimated, officially read or sent by smart meter.

If you or your energy provider suspect the meter might be faulty, they may ask you to provide daily meter readings for seven days to see if there’s an obvious problem. If the readings make no sense, it’s for the energy firm to come up with answers and solutions. This should involve sending out engineers to assess the meter’s performance or even a forensic analysis of your bills.

Don’t forget, if all else fails, you can make a formal complaint to the business and go to the Energy Ombudsman if they don’t sort things out.

Breaking the rules by back billing

Regulator Ofgem has a number of rules that businesses are supposed to follow – but don’t assume they are behaving properly. One of the things that businesses aren’t allowed to do (but still do) is ‘back billing’. If an energy firm sends you a new bill that covers a period that is older than the last year, they should not be charging you for it (as long as you haven’t deliberately dodged meter readings). They are only allowed to charge you for only for the most recent 12 months.

This is for new bills though. If you have an outstanding debt that you were correctly billed for at the time, the business can pursue it for up to six years. However, if you think you’ve not been treated fairly then you should make a formal complaint.

Nonsensical charges

I’ve seen some horror stories lately, including an older lady living alone, who was charged £12,000 for one year of energy use and a couple who moved in to a new home and were hit with a bill for £6,000 for six weeks of energy use. These bills are clearly errors. It’s not your job to work out why – it’s the responsibility of the business. Tell them to suspend all debt recovery while the matter is fully investigated and keep pushing back. They are supposed to be the experts – and can write off debts if they want to.

The Energy Ombudsman

Don’t forget that the Energy Ombudsman is a free alternative to the courts that you can go to if the business does not resolve your complaint.

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

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