Freezing energy problems? Your rights all you need to know

snow high up from ground to treets

Left out in the cold by your energy company? All you need to know about your rights

Well this is a Winter and a half isn’t it? Quite incredible. It is inevitable that many people will have had problems with their gas or electricity supply We just had a bit of emergency with the water tank too! So, in exceptional circumstances such as this weather, what are you rights?

I think one has to be aware that these are truly out-of-the-ordinary circumstances and to understand that energy companies are not going to be able to get to customers as quickly as they would normally. They have both the significant increase in call outs, but also it is as difficult for their repair people to get to you as anyone else driving. With all the accidents and deaths caused in this weather I do think we need to be aware of that. None of us would want someone to risk their life to fix our boiler, I’m sure.

However, companies should be doing all they can. They should have more staff in place during the Winter months and have emergency plans in place to deal with increased enquiries at times like this. You do still have rights and can claim for lack of gas or electricity supply and lack of service.

Your rights with weather-related energy problems on electricity pylon

Vulnerable Customers

Energy customers who are vulnerable (and usually you need to be on the company’s list as such) will take priority for any loss of supply or repair.

If you are struggling to get in contact with your provider, keep a note of all times you called, tried the website etc., as evidence to use in a complaint at a later date.

Cut in supply

In the case of a cut in your gas or electricity supply, it is your distributor, not the supplier, who is responsible. You can find out who your gas transporter is here and electricity supplier here. Complain to them if necessary.

In the event of an unplanned power cut you are entitled to set amounts of compensation. For electricity this varies depending upon the number of homes affected, how long you are without supply and how Ofgem categorises the storm.

In an unplanned power cut you are entitled to set amounts of compensation. For electricity this varies for the amount of homes affected, how long you are without supply and  how Ofgem categories the storm.

From the Ofgem website:
Service Guaranteed Standards payment
Supply restoration: severe weather
The time you are off supply before being able to claim varies according to severity of storm. This is because
the companies will have more work to do to fix faults.

Storm category 1: After 24 hours
Storm category 2: After 48 hours
£70 for domestic and non-domestic customers.

A further £70 will be paid for each additional period of 12 hours in which supply is not restored, up to a cap
of £700 in total.

This applies to both storm category 1 and storm category 2

More on  power cuts (e.g. multiple cuts) can be found on Ofgem Know Your Rights Power Cuts page.

For gas you will be paid £30 plus £30 for each 24-hour period without gas. See 1 little Known Fact You Need to Know When Your Gas is Cut Off!

If you are on the Priority Services Register or a cut was due to bad weather you SHOULD get the payment automatically. Keep an eye out though and claim if you don’t receive it.

You should be paid with 10 days of the end of the power supply cut if automatic and within 10 days from any claim. If not, make sure you get the extra £30 entitlement for that breach of the Standards.

Also useful to know… if you have more than 4 power cuts in one year you are entitled to £75. (The year runs from  01 April to 31 March).

Services

Energy companies are covered by the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and so you are entitled to services to be carried out with reasonable skill and care.

Cold weather payment

This is different to the Winter fuel payment. If you receive certain benefits and the temperature was forecast to be or is zero degree celsius or below for seven consecutive days you will receive £25 for each 7 day period between 1 November and 31 March. You can check if you are eligible and whether you will receive the payment (you do not need to claim it will be automatic) on the Government Cold Weather Payments page. Details for how to claim if not received are also on the site.

Boiler and heater breakdowns and cover

You will need to check your policy. But in general if the company has been unable to undertake the repair you should be able to employ another tradesperson to do the work. British Gas for example has said that “some Homecare polices will cover reimbursement for work we are not able to do which is then done by a third party, if the work is covered by the policy. Customers should check their policy if they wish to claim for a reimbursement. They will need a VAT invoice from their tradesman in order to claim.”  When SE leaves your elderly aunt without adequate heating for 11 days…  tells the story of what I did to claim when they did that to my aunt!

Other help

See Ofgem Standards of Conduct and Quality Standards for what you should be able to expect from your supplier. If it fails to meet the level of service required it must make a compensation payment. However, note that they do not need to do this if severe weather makes it impossible to restore the supply. See above for this.

See All you need to know to make a complaint about energy for more information including how to complain when a provider leaves a vulnerable customer without supply, about bills and how best to prepare a case for the Energy Ombudsman. See Top 20 Tips How to Complain! should you need to start getting your case together!

Left out in the cold by a rail company? Your rights if you have been affected by train delays or cancellations.

Your rights if your water supply has been interrupted

How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!

 

GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Energy ombudsman shows how to keep heat on your supplier

radiator

I often hear from people how they think an ombudsman hasn’t been fair or impartial in their case. Most frequently I hear the criticism that the ombudsman always sees in favour of the trader because the trader pays for membership. What people don’t realise is that’s the only way an ombudsman can be funded! But more importantly what people don’t realise is that they not only do they pay for yearly membership but they also pay per case whilst the customer pays nothing. So it is in the company’s interest for a case not to go to the ombudsman.

Sometimes, people approach the ombudsman with issues outside of their remit. Typically:

  • The complaint has been made too late – complainants have 12 months from the date the supplier issues its final response (known as a deadlock letter) to raise the issue with the ombudsman.
  • The complaint has been made prematurely (less than 8 weeks from the initial complaint or no deadlock letter received) – complainants need to raise the issue with the supplier and give them an opportunity to put things right before the ombudsman can become involved.
  • The trader does not participate in the ombudsman’s scheme.
  • The complaint is about a product or service which does not fall inside the ombudsman’s jurisdiction.

So, you have your issue, it falls within the remit and you still don’t get the decision you wanted so what do you do? I’ve asked Lewis Shand Smith the Chief Ombudsman at Ombudsman Services to share the traps people fall into and how to make a stronger case when submitting their issue. He looks at energy in particular but the points are valid for all sectors.

Head shot Lewis Shand SmithLewis Shand Smith Biography

Lewis Shand Smith was appointed Chief Executive and Chief Ombudsman of Ombudsman Services in 2009. Ombudsman Services is a not for profit organisation which resolves disputes in the energy, communications, property, and copyright licensing sectors, amongst others. Lewis was also the Chair of the Ombudsman Association. Previously he was the Crown appointed Deputy Ombudsman and a member of the Executive Board at the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO). He is a priest in the Scottish Episcopal church and has served several congregations in Motherwell, Shetland and Dumfries. He was a Canon of St Andrew’s cathedral in Aberdeen. From 1990 to 1999 Lewis was a member of Shetland Islands Council, becoming Convener/Leader in 1994. He has served as a non-executive director or trustee with a number of companies and charities. He is a former Vice President of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, was a member of the Executive of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, and represented the UK on the European Committee of the Regions.

Submitting cases to an Ombudsman service

Ombudsman Services receives complaints in a variety of forms. There are complaints the energy supplier would have resolved if the right person had picked it up. There are complaints where the parties agree on the facts – but disagree on an appropriate remedy. There are complaints where the parties fundamentally disagree on the facts. And there are complaints where neither party has yet been able to understand what happened.

In the period November 2016 to October 2017, Ombudsman Services closed 49,117 energy complaints. Of those, it helped resolve 8% without investigating because the energy company was willing to provide the consumer with their desired resolution.

Of the complaints that Ombudsman Services investigated, it:

  • upheld 66% (finding that the energy supplier had done something wrong and had not done enough to put it right).
  • maintained 26% (finding that although the energy supplier had done something wrong, it had already offered a fair resolution to the customer).
  • did not uphold 8% of complaints, (concluding that there was no substance to the original complaint and the energy supplier had treated the customer fairly).

These figures suggest that the majority of complaints needed Ombudsman Services intervention to ensure a fair remedy for the consumer. But many could have been resolved without Ombudsman Services’ help. In most cases, the complaints reached Ombudsman Services because of a failure in the energy supplier’s complaint handling; but some could have benefited from better complaining from the consumer – or the consumer accepting a resolution that was already fair.

So, below are some common reasons why consumer actions mean a complaint is not resolved with the energy company – along with some advice on how not to fall into the traps.

5 top tips for ensuring you have the best case if you need the ombudsman on picture of electricity pylon

 

  1. Focusing on the problem, not the solution

It is very easy to focus on what went wrong and how it should never have happened. But a complaint normally only ends successfully when the wronged party focusses on what needs to be done to put things right. So, before you complain, think about what you would like your supplier to do to resolve your complaint – and let the supplier know.

 

  1. Disbelieving accurate responses

When things go wrong, people lose trust. So people often lack confidence in energy company’s answers. It can be worth seeking advice online or from friends and family. This can sometimes provide the reassurance consumers desire without the need for an ombudsman investigation.  See All you need to know to make a complaint about energy for advice, tips, information and consumer rights regarding energy complaints and  the Ombudsman website for Energy complaint advice and cases. 

  1. Unreasonable expectations / asking for bills or balances to be wiped

Energy suppliers do offer financial awards – but they are normally goodwill gestures to acknowledge what went wrong. Energy suppliers rarely relate awards to the size of a consumer’s outstanding balance.

Ombudsman Services applies similar principles in our complaint handling. Customers should pay the correct amount for the energy they have consumed. If something has gone wrong and a financial award is due – the amount will be proportionate to the trouble the consumer experienced – not the outstanding account balance.

  1. Failing to engage with an energy supplier

Poor energy supplier responses can leave consumers feeling that the problem won’t be resolved without help. But Ombudsman Services can only help after a consumer has tried to resolve the problem with the energy supplier direct for several weeks. As frustrating as it is, consumers should plug away with the energy company. Be clear about what the problem is and what needs to be done to put it right. Check out 20 Top Tips for complaining effectively to increase your chances before needing the Ombudsman. Hopefully someone at the energy company will understand the complaint and correct the problem. This will mean a far quicker resolution than if you go to the Ombudsman.

  1. Becoming too invested in the complaint

If a consumer feels they’ve been wronged, they’re likely to tell people about it. Sometimes it turns out that the consumer is at fault, and in such circumstances, it can be difficult for consumers to admit their error to other people on the complaint journey. They can reach for excuses and/or change the substance of their complaint so as not to lose face. This rarely leads to success and escalating to Ombudsman Services can sometimes prolong and increase the disappointment. If a consumer realises that they are wrong, there is sometimes value in not continuing the complaint.

If consumers feel wronged they should always complain; but they should do so in a focused way and seek a proportionate outcome.

How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!For tips on writing that initial complaint see Top 20 Tips How to Complain!

 

For information, advice, consumer law and template letters GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!