There’s little doubt that millions of people around the UK are reeling about the rise in the energy price cap by a jaw-dropping 54%. So unsurprisingly, many of us are turning to our bills before the price hike kicks in to see where we can make some savings.
And that’s when you might discover that something is amiss…
The way that gas and electricity bills are calculated can make it hard to know if you’ve been charged incorrectly. But trust your instincts. Even though it’s Winter and prices and energy consumption go up, your bill over the year should allow for the seasons and charge you a set amount so you build credit in the Summer to cut costs in the Winter.
So if your bill has suddenly jumped massively, then that its either an indication that something isn’t working – or the business has failed in its duty to you to ensure that your meter was read.
Just to complicate things, thousands of people have contacted Resolver in recent weeks (and loads have contact me personally) to say that since they switched supplier bills have rocketed. The good news is you can still complain even if your old supplier went bust. Here’s how it works.
If your bill has gone up with your existing supplier
If you’re bill jumps significantly without reason, then you need to do a bit of troubleshooting with the business.
Firstly, report the meter or readings as faulty. If your energy supplier has been working off estimates for a long time or not recording your readings, then you may be able to appeal the bill even if the meter turns out to be working properly. Go through your bills and check when the meter was last read either by the business or by a reading you provided. There’ll be a code on your bill that explains what the readings are.
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. But ultimately, if the readings make no sense, it’s for the energy firm to sort out the problem. This can involve sending out engineers to assess the meter’s performance or even a forensic analysis of your bills.
For future reference, it makes sense to photo your meter whenever you read it so you have a backup – and with prices so high, to give a reading to the energy firm whenever you can. But if all else fails, you can make a formal complaint to the business and go to the Ombudsman if they don’t sort things out.
If you’re disputing a bill after being switched to a new provider
Lots of the people I speak to about billing issues are concerned because the previous provider has gone bust. Don’t worry about this – you can still complain through your current provider. The information needed to investigate billing disputes and errors should be available to the new energy firm, but it makes sense to provide any documents, bills and contacts with the firm you have (including readings you sent it) to speed things up.
I’m hearing from both people and businesses alike that there are some delays with transferring records – particularly credit and debt balances – so be patient but firm if there’s a dispute. Why not ask the business to suspend any collection procedures while the matter is investigated – and get this in writing.
Regulator OFGEM has rules in place that say people should not be ‘back billed’ for debts over 12 months old (not that it stops some energy firms from doing this). This means that you should not be pursued for an energy debts that originate over 12 months prior unless you’ve been billed for them before. There are exceptions – so if you hid behind the sofa to avoid the meter reader or ignored requests to provide meter readings, you can’t benefit as a result of that. But if the firm failed to take readings and were over reliant on estimates, then you could potentially appeal even a high bill on an accurate meter.
If a bill has been issued and not paid, then in theory 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.
Taking things further
An energy firm has eight weeks from the point you first make a complaint to resolve the matter in full. If they don’t do so, then you can automatically go to the Energy Ombudsman who will look at your case for free.
Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist.