How to Deal With Energy Companies - What Are Your Rights?

We're now gaining significant ground in the battle to give control back to the consumer when it comes to energy suppliers. Ofgem have recently announced a 3-day energy switching policy making it easier for consumers to shop around for the best deal, and Npower have been ordered to pay back money to consumers after a billing blunder. But with the energy landscape changing so rapidly, it's important to know your rights as a consumer... 

 

As part of their ongoing mission to put control back into the hands of the consumer, Ofgem have threatened to ban Npower from making telephone says if they don't rectify the situation by August. Telesales are a significant part of Npower's business model and the ban would hit the company hard should it come into effect. Npower have been issuing bills months, and in some cases years, to customers after they'd already switched suppliers. Rules had already been put in place by Ofgem stating that if a customer switches to a new supplier, all accounts must be closed and final bills sent from the old supplier within 6 weeks. It seems that Npower have noticed some unpaid bills on their accounts but have failed to rectify them, in some cases sending bills out months after customers have already left their service behind. 

 

This is all part of the ongoing confusion surrounding estimated billing, complex tarrifs and mismanagement of accounts from energy companies. Over the past year, common complaints have ranged from suppliers failing to take payment and then stinging customers with enormous bills, and tariffs not being clear or adhered to. As we reported last week, more than 13 million homes in the UK have accounts which are 'in credit', and one in five of these people are owed £100. So, what should  you do if you receive an unexpected bill or you tariff doesn't make sense? It's important that consumers are clear on what their rights are in order to regain control and capitalise on the recent moves by Ofgem. Here are some important points. 

 

I've received an energy bill out of the blue for 'unbilled usage', do I have to pay?

This is commonly referred to as 'back billing', and a supplier will sometimes hit you with a hefty bills months, or even years, after you've switched suppliers or moved home. There are rules which must be adhered to though. If you supplier is at fault, then they can only 'back bill' you for a period for within 12 months of when the error was detected (so they're not allowed to bill you for anything 13 months ago or more). Bear this in when receiving back bills and always remember to call them and query it before you pay. 

 

We're now gaining significant ground in the battle to give control back to the consumer when it comes to energy suppliers. Ofgem have recently announced a 3-day energy switching policy making it easier for consumers to shop around for the best deal, and Npower have been ordered to pay back money to consumers after a billing blunder. But with the energy landscape changing so rapidly, it's important to know your rights as a consumer... 

 

My account is in credit, does the supplier have to pay this back to me?

If you request it, yes. Beyond that, it gets a little more complex depending on your supplier. Those of you who pay your bills via direct debit will usually find a surpluss building up on the account over time. This can perhaps be due to a particularly mild winter or a long holiday, and because your bills are generated via estimations, you'll usually pay the same amount and end up with account credit. Ofgem have ruled that if you call an energy company up and ask for the credit on your account to be refunded to you, they are legally obliged to refund it. In terms of automatic repayment of credit, different suppliers have different rules. E.On for example, will automatically refund anything in excess of £5, whereas British Gas will wait until your account reaches £100 before they do anything to alert you.

 

If you don't request your money back, you should receive a lump sum on the anniversary of when you signed up. Be careful here though - having your account in credit is not necessarily a bad thing, and can help cover unexpected bill increases or energy intensive periods. 

 

What to do with estimated bills that are obviously wrong?

Estimated bills are a thorn in everyone's side. The Government is currently trying to curb this by having Smart Meters installed in every home, giving both energy companies and consumers an exact and up to date reading so that you only pay for what you use. At the moment however, we have to deal with the situation as best we can, and most energy companies are very cooperative when it comes to assessing your estimations. The first thing you should do when you get an estimated bill is go straight to your meters and compare. Make sure they're in the same ballpark (they will be slightly different because of the time delay, but not wildly out of sync). If you go to your suppliers website, the chances are you'll be able to submit meter readings on your account, but you can always call them up too - make sure they have constant updates (every quarter or so) to avoid bill shocks. If your estimations are slipping too far from the meter reading, get it rectified quickly to avoid getting shocked by a hefty bill. 

 

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Eco Stores Direct are dedicated to bringing you the latest energy news from throughout the UK. They are also specialists in energy efficient heating solutions which are practical and affordable, giving you complete control over your heating and energy usage. For more information on their range of far infrared electric wall panel heaters or designer electric radiators, call one of their friendly and helpful team on 0330 300 4444. 

 

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