Despite a last-ditch attempt at summer the weather has remained defiantly rubbish this year. Now as the days get longer and the kids are back at school, your thoughts might be turning to what the months ahead hold.
The heating may not have gone back on yet, but there’s little doubt that energy bills continue to be a major concern for millions of people. I had a huge reaction to my recent article about tackling incorrect energy bills. But many readers have since got in touch to ask me about how to make an effective complaint and ensure that their voices are heard. Here’s my guide.
Start by looking at the support options online. All energy businesses have ‘contact us’ information on their websites, though some phone numbers aren’t exactly prominent. These online resources usually include Q&A pages, live chat, those hard-to-find phone numbers and social media links. You may be able to do some things online, like submit meter readings. But for complaints, you’ll need to contact someone direct.
If you need help making a complaint, free organisations like Citizens Advice may be able to help you. Alternatively ask a friend or neighbour to help you get in touch with an energy firm. Charities like Age UK have support and advice for people too.
As with any complaint, I always recommend getting your thoughts down in writing first. Spending just five minutes jotting down a few bullet points covering what’s gone wrong can help you stay focused when you make the complaint. Try to keep things simple and focus on the problems you’d like the business to address. Ask the business if you can email or send them the written complaint if it’s complicated. Don’t forget to tell the energy firm what you want to sort the problem out.
If you have old bills, letters, photographs of meter readings or other information, gather all of the information and keep it in one place. Don’t send off your originals though. I photograph key documents so I have a record in case they get lost.
Don’t let the stress get to you. Energy bills are complicated, so don’t lose any sleep trying to understand the complications of energy bill calculations. If something doesn’t make sense, ask the business to explain it in plain English terms.
If you suspect there’s a problem with your meter, then the energy firm may ask you to take readings over a short period of time – usually seven days. After this point they may send out an engineer if they believe there is a problem. Ask the business to explain what is going on – and don’t forget that you are automatically entitled to compensation for missed appointments.
If you’re struggling with the cost-of-living crisis, tell the firm you are in financial difficulties and they should come up with a tailored plan to suit your needs. You can find a full list of the support that the regulator Ofgem says you can expect here
Ask the business to confirm in writing that it will not pursue debt action or send out threatening letters while the complaint is looked in to. If they refuse, you can report them to…
The Energy Ombudsman
If you’ve received a ‘final decision’ letter (the business must write to you, don’t let them shut the complaint on the phone) from the energy firm but you’re still not happy with the resolution, the Energy Ombudsman can look at your complaint for free. The same goes for complaints that have not been sorted out despite eight weeks passing. The Energy Ombudsman is part of the Trust Alliance Group – a wider group of free and impartial complaint resolution services.
It’s really easy to make a complaint online. The ombudsman will ask you to explain the problem in your own words and will ask what you would like to sort things out. You can also ask the ombudsman to award compensation for the time and trouble it has taken to make the complaint.
Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist