The other day I got a nice surprise when my energy bill arrived in the post, and found I’m in credit by £100! Great, but if I’m in so much credit, why is my money sitting in my energy company’s bank account?
I’m not the only person asking this question. Which?’s executive director, Richard Lloyd, is on Radio 5 Live all week talking about consumer rights, and on Monday a listener raised this precise issue.
Give me my money back!
So what can we do about it? Well I thought that one option would be to phone up the energy company in question and ask them to give it back. It wasn’t that easy.
They explained that the £100 I had in credit was only partly refundable because, although my gas bill was up to date, I hadn’t been billed for electricity since April. Confused? I am.
So I paid £66 on my last bill, submitted two meter readings shortly afterwards and got a statement saying I’m over £100 in credit. Wouldn’t this suggest that I paid too much on my last bill and that, not only should I get a refund, but they should also adjust my direct debit?
Well no, not according to Michael, the customer service rep who explained four times why this wouldn’t happen. I still don’t understand the reasoning. Perhaps it will all become clear when I over pay again in October?
Why’s it so complicated?
But should we really have to go to so much hassle? A colleague of mine at Which? was also in credit a few months back and the energy company simply paid back the amount without him even having to pick up the phone.
I accept that when paying by monthly direct debit, there needs to be a certain amount of flexibility – since you’re likely to be in credit after the warm summer months and in debit after a cold winter. These payments should balance out in the end. And I also accept that it’s our responsibility to make sure our meter readings are correct, by informing our energy provider every three months.
But it looks like energy companies have far too much leeway to arbitrarily decide what their policy is when our accounts are in credit. For instance, British Gas automatically refunds you when your £200 in credit, compared to E.ON which does so when you’re only in £5 credit.
At the end of the day, most of these companies will simply return the money if you ask for it. But should we have to when it’s our money they’re holding on to? After all, what would you prefer; money in your bank account earning you interest, or in your energy companies’ coffers?