Energy suppliers are consistently the worst companies at billing customers accurately. Gas and electricity suppliers incorrectly bill 2 out of 10 households. To make things worse, over 10% of them will experience this more than once. The government regulatory body Ofgem has been issuing millions of pounds’ worth of fines against the Big Six energy companies in the last several years. These energy suppliers send customers “back bills” to try and recover the money they lost due to their own errors. Or they may have already been overcharging customers and won’t refund them until they complain. So what can you do about this issue?
Do You Have Overcharged Energy Bills?
If you feel that your bill is too high or there is an unexpected increase, don’t just ignore this. There could be a number of reasons behind it, so you need to talk to your energy supplier about it to find out if there was a mistake. Most households do not provide regular meter readings to their energy supplier through the year. When the suppliers rely on estimates instead, they might end up undercharging you for months or even years. By the time they notice the error, it will create a “back bill” which the supplier will request you to pay back.
Why Are My Energy Bills Too High?
Other than back bills, there are other common problems which lead to inaccurate energy bills. Sometimes energy providers might bill a customer for another property’s usage under the wrong meter number. They might simply be applying the incorrect energy tariff to your account. The problem could be with your meter readings, whether they should be in metric or imperial measurements, or misplacing a decimal point. Your supplier might draw your Direct Debit for the wrong amount or charge fees that shouldn’t apply. Whatever the cause might be, you should contact your energy supplier as soon as possible to clear things up.
How to Get Money Back for Overcharged Energy Bills
If your energy supplier is enforcing an overcharged bill, then you can challenge it. Ofgem has a “Back-Billing Principle” which protects consumers. This prevents the energy suppliers from seeking payment for energy usage from over 12 months ago if they were responsible for not billing a customer correctly. You can contact your provider and go through their complaints procedure if they send you a back-bill against this principle. Bear in mind that it only applies:
- if you did request bills from your supplier but they didn’t provide them
- if they based your bills on estimates instead of meter readings you gave to them
- if your supplier had been mixing up meter readings and did not put it right
- if they did not respond to queries or complaints about your bills or meter and allowed your account to build up a large debt
- if you requested to change your payment arrangement but the supplier did not reassess your payments within 15 months
You can’t challenge a bill under the Back-Billing Principle if you are at fault for it. This could be due to moving into a property and failing to contact the energy supplier, deliberately avoiding making payments, or ignoring the supplier’s requests for meter readings or property access.
How to Complain to Your Supplier About Energy Bills
Aside from back-bills, if your current bill is too high you can still contact your energy supplier to complain. When you report the issue, they will have to investigate it, which should turn up the cause of any overcharging. Gather all the relevant information from your bills, contracts, and meters as evidence for your complaint. The stronger your case is, the more likely you are to get a successful resolution. Keep notes of times, dates, and names of anyone you speak to from the energy company. If they fail to resolve the problem within 8 weeks, or they uphold their bills and you disagree, then you can escalate your case. You can go to Citizens Advice for guidance and report your complaint to the Energy Ombudsman Service. If the Ombudsman takes your case, they will issue a binding decision which the supplier must uphold. In 7 out of 10 cases, the supplier ends up paying the consumer financial compensation of up to £10,000.
Tips to Avoid Overcharged Energy Bills
Financial worries are a huge burden and source of stress. There are ways to help you avoid the hassle of trying to sort out overcharged energy bills. Here are some things you can do:
1) READ YOUR ENERGY METER – Make sure that your energy supplier can’t overestimate or underestimate your bill. You can do this by providing at least four meter readings a year, submitting an up-to-date one every few months. There will be a guide to reading different meter types on your energy supplier’s website, and you can usually submit your readings online too. If you have a smart meter then this won’t apply, as they track the exact usage.
2) COMPARE AND SWITCH – Many suppliers offer a special introductory tariff then transfer you onto a standard tariff when it expires. These tariffs tend to be more expensive and you might not even notice right away when your tariff renews. It is likely that you’re on one of these tariffs if you have been with the same supplier for a couple of years. With comparison websites, you can browse the tariffs available based on your postcode and some information from your latest bill. Switching energy suppliers is much easier than most people think it is.
3) DODGE EARLY EXIT FEES – Energy suppliers will use exit fees, or early cancellation fees, to lock customers into a tariff for a certain length of time. These are usually for fixed-rate tariffs, but they will sometimes apply to variable tariffs as well. This is why you always need to check the terms and conditions when you sign up for a contract. However, if your supplier increases the prices of your tariff, you have the right to leave without paying the exit fee. They also can’t make you pay the higher rates in the meantime before you switch away. Complain if they do.