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Energy companies under scrutiny for Direct Debit hikes

On 3 May the Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng announced that Ofgem will undertake a series of “market compliance reviews”. These are to include a “stricter supervision of how direct debits are handled” by suppliers. The Government announced that some energy suppliers were hiking the prices of Direct Debits by more than is necessary. In some cases customers are seeing double or even triple their previous monthly payments.

Ofgem has given energy companies three weeks to explain what they have been/are doing or face punishment. In the first instance Ofgem prefers to work with companies to bring a resolution to issues. However, it does have the power to fine companies, according to Ofgem’s Compliance and Enforcement website page.

Kwarteng has said “The regulator will not hesitate to swiftly enforce compliance, including issuing substantial fines.” It would be good to see these companies fined and the money put back into the pockets of consumers!

radiator

Ofgem chief speaks out

The energy price cap rose by 54% – or on average £700 – to £1,971 a year. They are expected to rise again in October.

Just two weeks after this rise, Ofgem’s chief executive, Jonathan Brearley, said the regulator was seeing “troubling signs” that some companies were allowing customer service levels to deteriorate, and that concerns were raised by consumers and consumer organisations that some energy companies “may have been increasing direct debit payments by more than is necessary, or directing customers to tariffs that may not be in their best interest”.

It would appear that energy companies are profiteering. Brearley has said that some suppliers have been using the extra money “to prop up their finances, enabling them to follow more risky business models”. He also said that “Customer credit balances should only be used to reconcile bills, not as a source of risk-free capital.”

Citizens Advice calls for action

Citizens Advice star rating research released on the 8 April 2022  showed that “energy suppliers’ customer service is the worst it’s been on average since 2017. It comes a week on from the rise in the energy price cap “. The research showed that time waiting on the phone and for responses to emails are on the increase.

If a consumer is struggling to pay their energy bills, suppliers are responsible for providing support, such as affordable payment plans. But Citizens Advice is concerned that “many could be missing out on help they’re entitled to because they’re unable to easily contact their supplier.”

The charity calls on Ofgem to “… introduce a ‘consumer duty’ to ensure suppliers provide a service specifically designed to meet the needs of all customers.” and adds that “A similar approach is being adopted by the Financial Conduct Authority to upgrade consumer protection. It should make companies directly responsible for the outcomes their customers experience. This includes making it easy to contact companies and get support when needed.”

The shocking customer service currently being provided adds to people’s worries about bills and demonstrates that energy companies are cutting corners and not investing in supporting consumers through this difficult time.

Check your  energy bills

It’s easy to check your bills. Look at your previous bills and estimate how much you would expect to pay with the 54% rise. If you think the new Direct Debit amount is excessive then write to your energy company and complain. Ask it to lower the Direct Debit amount to a figure that you provide and include your own calculation. Then keep an eye on your consumption, taking a reading each month, so you don’t get any nasty surprises further down the line.

To calculate your bill: Take the price of electricity or gas per unit (KW/h) divided by 100 and multiply that by the consumption of the energy used. Add the cost of the standing charge, as the number of days multiplied by the daily charge, then add the VAT, which for energy is currently 5%.

So for example:

1) Pence per KW/h/100 x consumption 18.5/100) x 315.5 + £58.37
2) Days x daily standing charge 63 x 0.223 + £14.05
3) Sub total = £72.42
4) VAT @ 5% + £  3.62
5) Grand Total = £76.04

 

If you have a day and night rate, also perform the same check for the night rate.

If you have both electricity and gas then repeat the check for your gas bill too.

Check the reading

If your supplier has used estimated readings for a long time, it could be that your bill is significantly wrong. Take accurate readings and submit them to your supplier.

Don’t pay the estimated bill. Instead, send correct readings to your supplier who will provide an accurate bill. It could work in your favour, as you may have paid too much and be in credit. But do remember it could also go the other way!

Check the Direct Debit

Your Direct Debit amount should be the same each month/quarter and your supplier must inform you if it will change. If it doesn’t inform you, you can complain to your bank under the Direct Debit guarantee. The bank should then put you back into the position you were before the increase.

 

With these simple checks you can ensure that you stay in control of your energy bills.

 

Further help with energy costs and issues

Electricity pylon Everything you need to know to complain about energy problems

 

More on energy All you need to know to make a complaint about energy

 

 

 

 

How to sort out gas and electricity problems without draining your energy: 20 tips from our Consumer Fightback column – lots of information in my This Is Money column

Help with your complaints

book Logo cartoon cow at a laptop of book cover. How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!

 

If you need help with complaining effectively and making sure you are never fobbed off. GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!

 

 

101 Habits if an Effective complainer book cover with logo

 

101 Habits of an Effective Complainer to help you become more skilled and assertive when making complaints

 

 

 

 

 

 

Purchase downloadable templates to gain redress

 

 

 

 

 

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ADR Ombudsman Latest News Topical Utilities

Energy crisis – what you need to know

The full guide regarding the energy crisis

Gas prices have gone up 250% since January and 70% in the last month.

At the point of publishing, the companies Utility Point, People’s Energy,  Money Plus Energy, PFP Energy and Hub Group have ceased trading and Ofgem is arranging new suppliers for the customers of those companies. Others are in crisis talks.

Gas flame on stove

Why is there such an increase?

This has been caused by a number of factors and the Guardian article What caused the UK’s energy crisis? outlines in detail all the things that have happened to come together to cause a “perfect storm”.

  • Increase in supply from Asia particularly China and Latin America.
  • Decrease in supply from Russia.
  • Gas is normally stored in the Summer months, but the globally cold Summer meant gas supplies down.
  • 50% less wind last year so that storage is down.
  • Covid has meant more supply of gas.
  • The price cap on energy is removed on the 01/10/21

The current energy crisis is causing worry for many of us. Wholesale gas prices in the UK have more than quadrupled over the last year. Nuclear power plants have been forced to undertake unplanned outages for maintenance, a main power cable used to import electricity from France was shut down after a fire, and the UK’s wind turbines have slowed during some of the least windy months since 1961.

So, where does it leave consumers. What do you need to know?

What does Ofgem say?

A spokesperson for Ofgem said:

“We know that the current situation with high wholesale energy prices is putting pressure on customers and energy companies. This is a global issue.

We have the systems and processes in place to ensure that customer needs are always met.

For those customers who are with energy companies that can no longer trade, a new supplier will be appointed. Ofgem is working closely with government to manage the wider implications of the global gas price increase.”

What does Government say?

The Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said that

“Ofgem has robust measures in place to ensure customers’ gas and electricity supply will continue uninterrupted if a supplier fails, however, if the appointment of a Supplier of Last Resort [a new supplier] is not possible, Ofgem and the government have agreed processes in place to appoint a special administrator to temporarily run the business until such time as a new supplier can be found.”

My supplier has gone bust – what should I do?

You are protected by the regulator, Ofgem.

It will step in and inform you of your new supplier. This is known as “supplier of last resort”. This is well named, as it may not be the best deal! But you can and should look to switch when things settle down. You should hear within a few days of your company going bust.

The new supplier will place you on a “no exit fee” tariff. Ask the supplier to put you on the cheapest tariff.

The importance of switching energy suppliers and telecom providers on ITV News

What actually happens?

 Ofgem normally invites suppliers to bid to take on the accounts of those companies that have gone into administration. This helps them get the best deal for consumers. It is slightly more difficult at the moment due to so many being at crisis point and the negotiation needed to take on debts as well as credits. This is why there is a lot of discussion around the likelihood of so many suppliers going under, as the smaller ones may not be able to take on new customers and any debt.

This process should only take a few days.

Is there any possibility of having my energy supply cut off?

No. Regardless of whether you owe money or not, Ofgem’s safety net ensures that supply will continue. You will not notice any difference other than receiving a letter from your new supplier.

Should I switch supplier now?

No. Although switching is usually a good idea and you can usually save a lot of money, there is currently too much turmoil in the sector to be sure that you are getting the best deal. Wait until things have settled down.

It is also possible that you may lock yourself into a deal and the price of wholesale gas will come down.

What’s the price cap?

Price caps on put on out-of-contract energy deals. From 01/10/21 the current price cap will be upped and will add, on average, £139 toon average to annual bills. This will be more if you have a prepayment meter or use lots of energy.

I’m in the middle of a switch – what do I do?

The switching process will continue, as normal. You will move to the new supplier. If the new supplier is one that has gone bust you will automatically be moved to the one that has taken over.

I think my supplier may go bust – what should I do?

Sit tight and wait. But do take a meter reading for your electricity and gas meters so that you know how much energy you have used.

You may not be able to access your bills if a company goes bust, so make sure you download the bill so you have the evidence.

I’m with Bulb – now what?

With 1.7million customers Bulb is too large to be taken over by another supplier. It will go into “Special Administration” with Government provides financial support until the company can be rescued, sold or closed down.

I am in credit – what will happen to my money?

The new supplier shouldn’t take any payment if you are in credit. You should also be refunded your credit. How this will be done will be explained to you by the new supplier.

I am in debt – what will happen?

You will need to pay the debt to either the old supplier’s administrators or the new supplier, depending on what deal is agreed between the old and new suppliers.

I’ve got a smart meter – what happens to me?

You will still be transferred to another supplier. However, if your new supplier cannot operate your meter in “smart” mode it will put you into a “dumb” meter mode, using your existing one. Your smart meter will work as a smart meter again if you switch to a supplier that can operate with smart meters.

What should I do about the direct debit?

The new suppliers will explain to you what will happen with your direct debit but you can cancel and set up a new one if you wish to do so.

I can’t afford the new bills – what do I do?

Notify your supplier as soon as possible as you may be able to set up a payment plan.

Look to switch as soon as you know your new supplier. Use more than one comparison website. Also look direct with the cheapest on the comparison site as they may have a deal or you could use a cashback site. See my article Do Morethan just comparison websites for insurance quotes!

If you are vulnerable you should already be on your supplier’s priority register

Ofgem provides help with links from its page Getting help if you can’t afford your energy bills. Its rules state that suppliers must work with you to help you. This includes setting up a payment plan, breaks, more time to pay, access to hardship funds and details about the Priority Register. If you are vulnerable you should be on your supplier’s list.

There may also be access to hardship funds and grants from various organisations. You may also get 60 days’ space from creditors to focus on getting debt advice and setting up a debt solution. An excellent site for Debt advice is Debt Camel.

I currently have a complaint with my supplier which has gone bust – what can I do?

Unfortunately, there is no requirement for the new supplier to resolve your complaint. However, if the issue persists with the new supplier you will need to discuss the matter with them.

If your matter is with the Energy Ombudsman, then wait for it to contact you to discuss what will happen.

I don’t know who my supplier is!

Don’t worry! You can find out your gas supplier by entering your details into Find my supplier or phoning the Meter Number Helpline on 0870 608 1524 (7 pence per minute).

You can find out your electricity supplier on the Energy Networks Association’s website. Use the Lloyds register providers list to find independent operators.

Other help regarding energy

Energy prices are up – 10 ways to keep bills down ideas to reduce your energy bills.

Electricity pylon Everything you need to know to complain about energy problems

 

 

Everything you need to know to complain about energy

 

 

 

 

A spokesperson for the Energy Ombudsman said ‘As an organisation committed to supporting consumers, small businesses and energy suppliers through dispute resolution we are acutely aware of growing concern around the future of the energy sector and the accessibility of their services. We are working closely with industry to ensure that we can provide relevant information and support to those that access our services. Ofgem’s safety net protects customers of affected companies by ensuring that their energy supply is not disrupted and that domestic customers outstanding credit balances are protected.

For customers affected by suppliers who have ceased trading, we echo Ofgem’s advice to record a meter reading and not switch suppliers before the transfer Is completed. For those who’ve registered disputes with our service, we’ll provide an update as soon as Ofgem appoint a Supplier of Last Resort (SoLR) and there is clarity around whether or not the new supplier will be in a position to help with your case.’