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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ofgem Standards of Conduct and Quality Standards

Ofgem Standards of Conduct
In August 2013 Ofgem put new Standards of Conduct into place. They require suppliers and any organisations that represent them, such as brokers or third party intermediaries, to ensure that each domestic customer is treated fairly. They cover three broad areas:

Behaviour:
suppliers must behave and carry out any actions in a fair, honest, transparent, appropriate and professional manner.

Information:
suppliers must provide information (whether in writing or orally) which is:

  • complete, accurate and not misleading (in terms of the information provided or omitted);
  • communicated in plain and intelligible language;
  • related to products or services that are appropriate to the customer to whom it is directed; and
  • fair both in terms of its content and in terms of how it is presented (with more important information being given appropriate prominence).

Process:
the supplier must:

  • make it easy for the consumer to contact them;
  • act promptly and courteously to put things right when they make a mistake;
  • otherwise ensure that customer service arrangements and processes are complete, thorough, fit for purpose and transparent.

Four “core” tariffs per fuel (electricity and gas) will be the limit that any supplier can offer. This will apply to each payment type. Suppliers will be allowed to offer these tariffs to collective switching schemes. They will also be able to offer extra fixed term tariffs into schemes that meet their criteria.

Standing charge and a single unit rate for all tariffs and suppliers can set the standing charge at zero if they wish

Dual fuel and online account management discounts remain. They will not be considered as “core tariffs” but as a discount. They will be simplified and will apply uniformly across all tariffs as £/pence per year. For example, a supplier would be able to offer a direct debit customer a choice of no more than four electricity and four gas tariffs. The customer could then choose a dual fuel discount and an online account management   discount.

Existing, expensive “dead tariffs” (i.e. tariffs that are no longer marketed) – customers must be transferred onto the cheapest variable rate. A supplier will only be able to keep consumers on dead tariffs if they are cheaper, or as cheap, as the supplier’s lowest standard or evergreen tariff.

Ban from increasing prices on fixed term deals or making other changes to fixed term tariffs (except trackers or structured price increases set out in advance which are fully in line with consumer protection law).

Ban from rolling forward household customers onto fixed term contracts without their consent.

42-49 day window before customers’ end date of their fixed term tariff for them to decide if they want to stay with the supplier or switch.

Requirement to give all customers personalised information on the cheapest tariff offered for them. This information will appear on each bill and on a range of other customer communications.

All information suppliers send to consumers is to be simplified, more engaging and personalised to them.

Tariff Comparison Rate (TCR) – all suppliers’ communications to provide “at a glance” information to help customers compare tariffs. The TCR will be similar to the APR comparison rate used with credit cards. Ofgem is also requiring suppliers to provide personalised estimates which take account of a customer’s usage to enable them to compare tariffs more accurately when switching.

Tariff information label will set out key terms and conditions as well as relevant information to help consumers compare across suppliers.

Quality of Service Guaranteed Standards
The Quality of Service Guaranteed Standards are guaranteed standards of service levels that must be met by each distribution company. The Direction was made by GEMA and took effect in October 2010. These standards have been set to guarantee a level of service that is reasonable to expect companies to deliver in all cases.

If the distribution company fails to meet the level of service required, it must make a payment to the customer subject to certain exemptions which are:

  • severe weather makes it impossible to restore the supply
  • strikes or industrial action
  • you’re out when the energy company visits and you knew they were coming
  • you cancel an appointment.

Payments under the guaranteed standards compensate for the inconvenience caused by loss of supply. They are not designed to compensate customers for subsequent financial loss.

Ofgem monitors and enforces the guaranteed standards relating to quality of supply.

The guaranteed standards cover 12 key service areas, including supply restoration, connections and voltage quality, and for the consumer cover situations when:

  • you report a faulty prepayment meter to your supplier and someone is not sent to repair or replace it within a specified time
  • the supplier doesn’t arrive within agreed time slot for a visit to your  home
  • the supplier doesn’t respond to your written enquiries within a certain time limit gas supply is interrupted because of a fault – you may be entitled to a compensation payment, depending on for how long it is off. It must be restored within a specified time depending on the weather and the number of homes affected.
  • the supplier does not give two days or more written notice when an electricity distributor plans to interrupt your supply (example here)
  • a gas transporter digs up your garden or driveway and any damage caused by the work is not made good within ten days
  • you are on the Priority Services Register and your gas supply is interrupted but you are not given alternative heating and cooking facilities within four hours.

Back billing
Energy suppliers are signed up to Ofgem’s back-billing principle. If the supplier is at fault for not sending you a bill for more than a year, (and this could be for a number of reasons including, not dealing with requests from you about a faulty meter or account and subsequently allowing a large debt to build, failing to process a direct debit or just failing to send you a bill) then you do not have to pay. There are some reasons when this doesn’t apply, such as if you make no attempt to make a payment. Should the company not honour this principle then follow their complaints procedure.

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

 

For more details about complaining to energy companies including advice, tips and templates see How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!

 

 

 

Your energy and your rights – what you should know

energyThere have been many reports over the last few years regarding poor practice in the energy market, such as mis-sellling, putting people on the wrong tariffs and over charging.

 

Mis-selling
Companies are bound by the same laws as suppliers of other services and so consumers are covered in particular by The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and The Consumer Rights Directive 2013, protecting the consumer from misleading information and providing a 14 days cooling off period. If you have made a purchasing decision you would not have made had you been given accurate information or not put under unfair pressure to do so  you’ve been misled and these laws protect you.

Following Ofgem investigations, if you have switched suppliers in the last couple of years with a company representative rather than online, you may have been mis-sold. It may be worth checking to see if the company has a compensation package

Ofgem
Ofgem is the Office of the Gas and Electricity Markets, which supports the Gas and Electricity Markets Authority (GEMA), the regulator of the gas and electricity industries in Great Britain. The Authority’s powers and duties are largely provided for in statute (such as the Gas Act 1986, the Electricity Act 1989, the Utilities Act 2000, the Competition Act 1998, the Enterprise Act 2002 and the Energy Acts of 2004, 2008, 2010 and 2011) as well as under rulings of European Community legislation in respect of energy regulation. GEMA oversees Ofgem’s work and provides strategic direction.

Ofgem will not deal with individual complaints but provides guidance for energy suppliers.

Complaints
Energy suppliers must have a procedure for dealing with complaints. This should be available on their website or by telephoning them. The procedure should include names and contact details of all available sources of independent help, advice and information.

If you have a complaint about your electricity, contact the supplier in the first instance. If you think you are entitled to compensation, contact your regional electricity distributor within three months of getting your power back on (if they haven’t contacted you). Your regional electricity distributor may not be the same as the company that supplies you with electricity. There are fixed payments for various issues.

The big six companies must resolve a complaint within 8 weeks (12 weeks for smaller companies). The customer needs to be part of this process, providing any information requested. If it is not resolved within this time the supplier must produce a letter of deadlock. Once this is received the customer can take the complaint to the Energy Ombudsman. (In Northern Ireland, you should contact the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland).

Top 20 tips for complaining effectively.

If you don’t get satisfaction from customer services contact the CEO, you can get the contact details for CEOs at ceoemail.com.

Priority Services Register
The Priority Services Register is for vulnerable people (people who are of pensionable age, are registered disabled, have a hearing or visual impairment, or have long term ill- health) and includes lots of benefits including entitlement to a free annual gas check, priority reconnection and free advice. Register with your supplier.

Refunds
If your existing account is in credit you can ask for a refund. Ogem says this should be paid promptly unless there are reasonable grounds not to do so.

Check the company’s policy for complaining refunds ifyou are in credit with an account you closed. Ofgem simply says suppliers must make efforts to return the money! There isn’t even a “promptly” guideline here! But the Energy Ombudsman or a court would expect it to be within a reasonable length of time! Whatever reasonable may be!

Meters
Ofgem provides a comprehensive guide for understanding meters and your rights  with various further links.

Other
More about the importance of switching suppliers here.

Here’s a story about getting compensation when the gas was cut off.

All you need to know to make a complaint about energy for just about everything you could need to complain about regarding energy.

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

 

 

Loads more about energy and lots of other sectors with information, advice, consumer rights and templates on how to complain in the book How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!