Guide To Your Consumer Rights with Energy Companies
Understanding what your rights are with the energy companies, how to make a complaint, and who is available to provide you with support is not always clear. This page will help guide you through your rights and what to do.
What are Your Rights?
Understanding what your rights are can be difficult and it can be hard to gauge who is right when the energy companies are so big and powerful. So here are some of the rights that you may or may not be aware of:
- Switching suppliers to get a better deal – Your current supplier cannot prevent you from changing suppliers unless you are in debt of over £500 per fuel on a prepayment meter. If you are in a contractual period, you may have to pay an exit fee depending on the contract. Our handy guides explain why and how homeowners and businesses should switch.
- Debt support – your supplier should help you work out your energy debt and create a repayment plan. They should also refer you to any support services available. You can also seek advice from Citizens Advice.
- Prepayment meters – you cannot be forced to have a prepayment meter installed until all options have been exhausted. You also can have the prepayment meter exchanged for a credit meter if you are no longer in debt and you have a reasonable credit rating. There is advice on the Citizen Advice website about the prepayment meter rules.
- Disconnections – like with prepayment meters there are rules and guidelines for energy suppliers that they need to follow before they can disconnect you and if you are a vulnerable customer you should not be disconnected. There is information and support about disconnections on Ofgem’s website.
- Back-billing – This is a catch-up bill that your energy supplier can send you if you have been billed incorrectly, as we explain in our quick guide. However, if the fault is the energy suppliers they cannot bill you for any energy that was used more than 12 months ago. Ofgem also has guidance on what energy suppliers can charge in terms of back-billing.
- Claiming back credit on your account – direct debit customers can often end up in credit, but this could partially be due to seasonal usage differences. If you believe you are paying too much and are in credit you can claim back your credit and/or adjust your direct debit amount.
- You cannot be forced to change your meter to a smart meter, but energy suppliers have been tasked by the government to replace all meters with smart meters by 2020 so they will be trying to get all customers to switch. If you do not want a smart meter, make it clear to your supplier to prevent repeated attempts to make you switch.
- If you believe you have been misled, you can complain and have your account reviewed.
- Faulty meters – if you believe your meter is faulty you can ask your supplier to carry out a meter test. You can also ask for an independent expert test if you are not happy with the results. There is no charge for testing your meter, but the energy suppliers can charge you for removing and replacing the meter.
- Power cuts – if you suffer from repeated or prolonged power cuts then you may be entitled to compensation. These compensation rate levels have been set for all distribution network operators by Ofgem.
- Complaints – all energy companies should publish their complaints procedure and should adhere to it. If they are not following the procedure you should use the escalation points to progress the complaint and when they are not following or refusing to do anymore, you can contact the Energy Ombudsman to review the complaint.
For more see: Understanding Your Energy Bill
When is it Right to Complain?
You should make a complaint if you feel any of the following applies to you:
- The customer service you receive is poor
- You do not receive the services you are paying for
- Your energy bills are incorrect and have not been addressed by customer services
- You are not being dealt with fairly
- You were misled or given incorrect information
- You feel unduly pressured into something
Complaining should not just be seen as a way of getting compensation, as that is not always the case. It is an opportunity for you to be heard and have the errors put right, but also an opportunity for the energy company to learn from their mistakes as they do not know what they are doing wrong unless they are told.
Always remember if you are not happy with the service you are receiving then you can switch suppliers, which may be much simpler than you think. If you do a little bit of research into what customers think about the energy supplier you are thinking to switch to you may find a supplier with better customer service performance.
Who Should You Direct Your Complaint to?
Understanding the issue and who is responsible for it is an essential part of making a complaint. In the energy industry in the UK there is a division between the services provided by different companies:
- Energy suppliers cover domestic and business energy supply including billing, payments, and meters
- The external energy supply to your house, both gas and electricity, is distributed by separate companies to your energy supplier in most cases. If you have a power cut, you need to direct your complaint to the distribution network operator for gas or electricity. These are operated regionally and not by a national company covering the whole of the network, you can find out who your network operator is on the Energy Networks Association website.
For more see: Who Supplies My Gas and Electricity?
How Should I Make a Complaint?
When you need to make a complaint to your energy company it is best to look on their website for their complaints procedure to see where you should direct your complaint to, what expectations you should have in terms of their response timescales, how to escalate the complaint if needed, and any other steps in their process.
When you make a complaint try to remain calm, which can be difficult if it is emotive but you are more likely to be treated better if you are not aggressive and swearing.
Have a list of the facts of the complaint to hand so that you have all the details and do not get confused or pressured into believing what the advisor is saying if that is not the case. If you do not think the advisor is listening or helping escalate the issue to a manager and refer to their complaint procedure if needed.
When you make a complaint, you should always keep a record of all the dealings and discussions. There is a tool to help you track this called Resolver.co.uk which is an online service or app that is available free of charge to give customers advice about complaints and to guide you through the complaint process.
It offers assistance in writing letters and emails and can record telephone conversations for you. Resolver also has a complaint log that trackers the complaint and will allow you to send the case file electronically to the Energy Ombudsman if it is not resolved satisfactorily.
Where Can I Go for Support?
If you need help with your energy supply and you are unable to get the support, you need from your energy supplier you can contact Citizens Advice for guidance and support. If you need help regarding a complaint, then the Citizens Advice and the Energy Ombudsman can help.
What Support Does the Citizen Advice Service Offer?
Citizens Advice is available to support domestic and micro-business energy users with their dealings with energy companies. Their service is free and impartial and covers services such as:
- Understanding your energy bill
- Issues with energy bills
- Struggling to pay your energy bills
- Preventing your energy supplier from installing a prepayment meter
- Grants and benefits to help pay your energy bills
- Switching energy suppliers
- Switching energy suppliers when in debt
- What do you do when you do not agree to switch suppliers
- How to make a complaint
- Energy Ombudsman
- Disconnections of energy supply
- Compensation when a power cut occurs
- The energy supplier has gone out of business
- Reading your energy meter
- Issues with your energy meter
- Prepayment meters
- Smart meters
- Moving home
- Claiming back credit from energy suppliers
You can contact the Citizens Advice by:
- Calling 0345 404 0506, lines are open Monday to Friday 9 am-5 pm
- Online form
- Write to Citizens Advice Consumer Service, 2nd Floor, Fairfax House, Merrion Street, Leeds, LS2 8JU
What is the Energy Ombudsman Service?
The Energy Ombudsman is a free and impartial service provided by the Ombudsman Services which is an independent complaint resolution service that handles complaints between consumers and companies outside of the courts. Micro-businesses can also use the Energy Ombudsman service.
You can contact the Energy Ombudsman service if your complaint has not been satisfactorily resolved within eight weeks of the complaint being registered, or if the energy company is no longer dealing with the complaint. They also have resources available to help consumers make complaints.
You can contact the Energy Ombudsman by: