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Energy complaint unresolved? Go to the Energy Ombudsman!

Despite having had numerous issues with energy companies, I hadn’t heard of the Energy Ombudsman until I started working for Which? – I’m not alone. In fact, we could be missing out on £4m in compensation.

Some problems are quite well publicised – the PPI mis-selling fiasco, for instance. Thousands have flocked to complain about this, and if the banks don’t deal with their complaint, most people know they can seek help elsewhere – via the Financial Ombudsman Service.

So why is it that so few people raise energy complaints with the Energy Ombudsman? Well, part of the reason is that it’s just not well publicised.

Despite having many problems with energy companies myself, no one has ever told me that I can take my case further if I’m not satisfied. One energy supplier even sent me a letter telling me they were glad they’d solved my problem, even when they hadn’t solved it at all.

Bad energy complaints handling

But I’m not the only one in this boat. One of the main issues with energy complaints handling is that it is the company, rather than the customer, who decides when the complaint has been ‘resolved’. If this happens to you, like it did with me, you could be left feeling pretty helpless if you don’t know about the Ombudsman.

Given that our research today shows that the ‘big six’ energy suppliers – British Gas, EDF Energy, Eon, Npower, SSE and Scottish Power – receive around four million complaints per year, I think it’s time something was done to make sure the complaints process works properly.

Our satisfaction survey of 8,271 Brits also found that 40% of energy customers have had a problem with a gas and electricity company in the last two years. Almost a quarter of these people didn’t make a complaint. Why?

There could be as much as £4m in compensation owed to customers – but they miss out on getting it because they don’t go to the Ombudsman. That’s a great shame, considering that the vast majority of complaints it receives are upheld, with an average payout of £125.

Can we fix it? Yes we can!

If I make a complaint I want it to be dealt with properly, reported properly, and most importantly, I want to know where to turn when the company doesn’t sort things out itself.

So the energy complaints system needs to drastically improve. We need to see suppliers giving us full, transparent information about the number of complaints they receive, and how many of those are escalated to the Ombudsman. Plus, a complaint should only be ‘resolved’ when the customer says it has been.

Most importantly, in my opinion, we need to make more people aware of the Energy Ombudsman – you don’t just have to take it lying down if your complaint is rejected.

Comments
Andrea says:
13 January 2012

I have loads of complaints about Scottish Power. My recent was they stopped my direct debit without my authorisation then used the money i had for credit to pay the monthly bill now i am in debt with them and they want 200.00 a month from me! i am already strugglyinh so going from a 95 pound a month bill to a 200.00 a month aswell as my other bills is making things extremley difficult! They wont lower the payments for me. This all happened just before christmas and i have had to agree to pay 196.00 a month to them now! They shouldnt have cancelled my direct debit and used my credit to pay the bill without contacting me first!! They also took money from my account on a date that was not authorised by me which resulted in a bank charge. I did inform them of this and they did refund the bank charge but on looking at my scottish power account they had refunded me the money out of my credit so i gave myself the money back!!!! How wrong is that!! i am a mother of 3 children under 5 and find life a struggle anyway with money and this has totally rocked my boat!

Malcolm Fry says:
13 January 2012

I do find that some energy suppliers can be, shall we say, a bit naughty in the way they handle direct debits. The problem is, at the end of the day, you probably do owe the ARREARS they are claiming (if there is an actual meter reading, rather than an estimate). The ombudsman could be useful, if necessary, for resolving your bank charge issue, but I’m not sure about the rest of it.
If your arrears problem is, as you say, their FAULT, it should be possible to NEGOTIATE, a realistic repayment schedule for arrears. Don’t let them put in a pre-payment meter.
Try to work out some sensible figures for your likely future consumption, plus a rate to clear any arrears, which you can afford. Note that, in an arrears situation, energy suppliers have a tendancy to over-estimate your future consumption, to speed up the repayment.
Then put a proposal, in writing, preferably by email, backed up with realistic figures. Make it clear that you are COMPLAINING, because you feel it’s their fault. Then, I’m afraid, you just have to be persistant. If they don’t agree with your proposal, you need to get them to, at least, put a counter-proposal in writing. If it is not acceptable, then you at least have a record to go to the ombudsman with. If they don’t put a counter proposal within, I think it’s 6 weeks, you could take that fact to the ombudsan.

Malcolm Fry says:
13 January 2012

Never be afraid to complain to an energy provider, but ALWAYS DO IT BY EMAIL, if you can. They are then obliged to respond. If they respond, BY TELEPHONE, unless you are completely happy with their response, send them ANOTHER EMAIL, asking them to respond in writing. You may have to go through this a couple of times, but you will EVENTUALLY get something in writing, which you can actually HOLD them to, or use as evidence for the ombudsman.

Andrea says:
13 January 2012

Ahh thats where i am not doing things right then. I always telephone thinking things will be resolved quicker.

Malcolm Fry says:
13 January 2012

If you have a FAULT, with your gas or electricity, report it by telephone, if you want a quicker response. ALWAYS report COMPLAINTS in writing, is the best advice I can give. That applies to everything, not just energy. If you can meet face to face, that can be a good way to “sort” a complaint, but even then, unless you are 100% satisfied, back it up in writing, even if it’s only to say “To confirm our discussions of …..(date)….”.

Jeff says:
13 January 2012

Problems with Scottish Power:
2 days before leaving them, they read the meter. They then ignored my final reading and used an estimate which was far more than I could use in 2 days. This is still an ongoing problem with my new supplier as “there is a discrepancy with your meter readings”. I don’t understand why SP used an estimate, as I also told them of my final reading. In fact, I think that by doing this they have failed to follow the correct procedure.
They also wrote to me after I had switched complaining that I had cancelled my direct debit. I had done this as I was almost £300 in credit with an expected bill of about £70 to come out of this credit.
Then when they made up my final bill, they calculated it on a more expensive tariff. When I complained, they agreed that it was a mistake and that I would receive a credit “in the next 10 days”.
Now on 13th Jan 2012, I am still correxsponding to try to receive this outstanding amount.

Very poor customer service!

Jeff says:
13 January 2012

Sorry, forgot to say that I switched supplier in September 2011.

Malcolm Fry says:
13 January 2012

I am not saying you did anything WRONG, and you don’t specifically state the chronology, but IF you cancelled your direct debit BEFORE the switch was COMPLETED, that may be the reason for the problem. When you cancel a direct debit, the bank, as far as I’m aware, immediately notifies the recipient (rather than wait til the next payment is due). If your old tariff was conditional on direct debit payments, that notification will “raise a red flag”, if your account has not yet been CLOSED, with your old supplier. This can lead to issues of their computer thinking you are on a tariff you are not entitled to! Their systems should be better than that, so it’s not an EXCUSE, but could be an EXPLANATION.

Jeff says:
13 January 2012

I had made the payment for September, so I didn’t want them to take one out for October. British Gas had done this to me the last time that I switched (and was also in credit with BG) so cancelling the DD AFTER the switch was the only way that I could be sure that I didn’t pay my new supplier and my old supplier in October.

But it gets worse, I have a few minutes ago received this email from SP
“The refund of £x.xx raised on 25th October 2011 is cancelled on 26th October 2011 as it is adjusted in below mentioned way:
For consumption – £x.xx
For VAT – £x.xx
If you have any further questions then you may wish to use our online help facility 24 hours a day available at http://www.scottishpower.co.uk/contactus

No reason as to why it has been cancelled.

Malcolm Fry says:
13 January 2012

I do still think the problem was “triggered” by your DD cancellation. I understand your reasons for doing so, and it did not “ought” to cause your problems, there’s probably something in clause 171g , or something, in their terms and conditions, about it.
I suggest you go to that site. Fill in a COMPLAINT, saying you have received email, ref …., and as there is no explanation of the “adjustment”, you neither understand, nor accept, it. Tell them you require an explanation, and breakdown of the “adjustment”, in WRITING. If you get no response in a few days, or if they try to discuss it, by phone, repeat the complaint, on another form, giving them a deadline to respond. I’m afraid you just have to be persistant. You do need to get THEIR version of the figures, in order to make a sensible case, if you have to go to the ombudsman. Sometimes their complaint forms won’t give you a copy. If that’s the case, send an email, as well, so you’ve got a copy.

Jeff says:
13 January 2012

I agree that cancelling the DD triggered something, but that is not the issue. It is that they calculated the final few weeks using the wrong tariff, then agreed that it was the wrong tariff and said I would get a refund. So far this hasn’t appeared. It isn’t a lot of money, but they should not have put me on a high (incorrect) tariff for thisfinaskl bill. As for the fact that the final bill was estimated, I’m letting that go, so as not to over complicate the refund.
But if my new supplier still can’t agree with SP about the final reading, I’ll then take that up as a different complaint. I’m sure that the “old” supplier should wait for the “new” supplier to give them a final reading and not the other way round (as it was done this time).
As soon as I got todays email I responded saying that they haven’t said why the credit was cancelled. I gave them 7 days to refund me.
As for getting through to SP, it has always been a struggle to delve through their website to find out how to send them an email (on a form), and even then if you take longer than 10 minutes to compose it, you get timed out and all that you have written is lost. I got wise to that by writing my correspondence to them on a text editor, then pasting it in.
However, I’m not using the form, as replying to their emails still gets me through. Also I cannot log into my old account, I guess because I am no longer a customer so I can’t use the forms anyway.
But please read their response that I copied above. It is not proper English grammar, so I guess that it was sent from an offshore centre by someone who has not got a full grasp of the English language.
Let’s see what next week brings.

Malcolm Fry says:
13 January 2012

I can virtually guarantee that the weeks on the “wrong” tariff was some computer saying “he should no longer be on a direct debit based tariff, transfer him to this one”, before it was told you were leaving, and either backdating it to your last reading, or last DD.
The email, you received, is certainly “informative” (not). I agree about the “pidgeon” English. I laugh sometimes at the communications I get, sometimes, from Virgin’s help centre, I think in India. What you need is a sensible explanation, in writing, of what it means. It may not be easy, but it is probably the only way to fully resolve your issues, especially if you have to get it arbitrated by the ombudsman. Having said that, if you can show the efforts you have gone to resolve the issue, you may well get compensation, based on that. Be persistent, and good luck!

Jeff says:
13 January 2012

Thanks Malcolm. Please be assured that I will be persistent.

:-))

Jeff says:
13 January 2012

When my capped tariff ended on 31 Aug, I told them that I didn’t want to be autmatically put on the 2013 tariff. This 2013 tariff one is the one that they used for the final bill. And it was a DD tariff. And it should have been a DD tariff as I had paid by DD up until they ceased to be my provider. But not that DD tariff.
I have the evidence that I told them that I wanted to be on their “standard” tariff from 01 Sep 2011.

Let’s see therm try to wriggle out of that.

Jeff says:
17 January 2012

Got an email from SP. They are going to issue a cheque which will also include a small “goodwill payment”.
But they say that a cheque was issued but never cashed. That certainly isn’t what they said last week when they clearly state that the payment was cancelled the day after it was raised.

Methinks that SP are being somewhat disingenuous.

Malcolm Fry says:
17 January 2012

I thought you’d get there in the end, although, perhaps we’d better delay the cheering until the cheque actually arrives!

Jeff says:
29 January 2012

The cheque arrived yesterday, 4 months after moving my electricity supply away from Scottish Power. This is a company that is now on my ever-growing list of companies that I will never do business with again.

I have mentioned this episode to a few people who have also experienced similar “errors”, and I’m now not so sure that it was a genuine mistake.
And it could easily have been so different.

I have also moved my gas supply away from Ebico. They were great and my overpayment to them arrived very quickly. I will be happy to be a customer of Ebico in the future.

But I really can’t understand the ordinary people who do this sort of thing. They appear to be trying to rip off other ordinary people to improve the profits of the company that they work for, when if they looked inward before treating “customers” in this way they would realise that rather than increasing profits, they end up losing customers and therefore turnover. And with the internet making it so easy for opinions to be shared, they give their a bad reputation.

Ombudsman? …… please don’t be fooled …. this office is funded by the utility companies …… and you know the rules – ” he who pays the piper calls the tune”.

I say this in the light of my recent experience when the Ombudsman was involved in my 5 month effort to extract a credit balance from EDF after I switched to another company. The Ombudsman made a favourable ruling including compensation and gave EFD 28 days to pay. EDF paid the compensation within this time period …… but not the credit balance!

Frustrated at the need to crank up my effort again, I lodged another claim through the Ombudsman, seeking more compensation as well as the credit balance ….. but he took the view that EDF failing to comply with the timing of his ruling was quite forgiveable.

Teeth? …… what teeth? Soft gums at best. We need a shark to combat the immoral and deliberate practices of these utilities. Sharks needs financial independence from their target food.

After this, I saw theOmbudsman in a new light ….. and possibly part of the problem of the first tier of the complaints process ( the individual utilities themselves ) not working to our satisfaction …. after all, if the utilities are funding a second tier (the Ombudsman) to catch unresolved first tier problems, why would they bother too much about failure of tier one?

Many of you would doubt my use of the wording “deliberate” when it comes to these errors ….. my view is that if the errors were just random occurrences, then as many would be in my favour as there are against. Years of experience tells me this is just not so, so somewhere a bias is being thrown into the system.

Andrea says:
13 January 2012

I wasnt in arrears. If anything i was paying to much anyway.

Malcolm Fry says:
13 January 2012

My apologies if I misunderstood you. I thought you were saying that they had “mucked-up” your direct debit payments, which had put you into arrears. Sorry.

I don’t know about the big six but I had a problem with First Utility bills that has taken two years to resolve. This is despite the help of Consumer Focus, the Energy Ombudsman and my MP.

The Energy Ombudsman, though helpful seemed to have no more power than Consumer Focus. The problem did not seem to get actioned until I wrote to my MP, who took the matter up with the chief Ombudsman.

I was not convinced that the Energy Ombudsman had any more control than I was able to exert.

Though the Ombudsman produced a report which was accepted by both First Utility and myself the issue was still not resolved in the 28 day resolution period and still nothing happened.

I’m not sure that Which? are being very helpful or honest here. Having a problem with my gas supplier I turned to the Which? website and looked up ‘Ombudsman’. I could find an ombudsman for practically everything EXCEPT gas or electricity. If a Which? member cannot find a reference to the Energy Ombudsman what chance do the rest of the population stand? Judging by the comments above it does not seem it will get me far anyway!

Hello Geoff, sorry that your search was fruitless, but it’s all here if you need it: http://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/making-a-complaint/dealing-with-energy-suppliers/

Thanks.

Malcolm Fry says:
13 January 2012

I do sympathise with anyone, struggling to resolve a dispute with an energy supplier. I was, before I retired, an Environmental Control consultant, so should have little problem, myself, but I still, sometimes, have difficulty understanding energy suppliers figures and logic, let alone “terms and conditions”. An ombudsman service should work well, but only if their decisions are legally binding. To be fair, they also need both sides to provide a reasoned and coherent arguement. Unfortunately, it is often difficult for the layman to see through the fog with which energy suppliers surround themselves, in order to produce such an arguement. It is easy for commerce, and the rich, to employ technical and legal advice, but that is beyond the reach of most. Citizens Advice can be of some help, but they are not specialists. I don’t know if Which? can assist with this sort of issue, but neither Consumer Watch nor the ombudsman are ideally placed for ADVICE.

Brian Thomson says:
13 January 2012

Changed to Scottish Hydro last year after a cold call at my front door and agreed to change suppliers. Signed an agreement and the usual story about how much cheaper they were than other energy companies. But like every other supplier they have increased their costs and come back with a promise of a reduction in the price of their utilities.
It was not until I opened the Which magazine two days later, that I read cold calling was illegal, but by then I had committed to change suppliers.

Malcolm Fry says:
14 January 2012

Hopefully we have NOW seen the end of doorstep selling by energy suppliers. That doesn’t stop them tele-selling. I recently had a tele-salesman, from British Gas, telling me how good their latest tariff is. He must have been on the phone for at least half an hour, and I must have said “Sounds good. Please send me details, in writing” at least half a dozen times. He managed to come up with half a dozen excuses, why it had to done over the phone, so, in the end, I hung up. I was, actually, quite pleased that I had wasted half an hour of his time. I wasn’t doing anything very exciting, anyway.

Malcolm Fry says:
14 January 2012

Most problems with energy suppliers are, at least in part, due to a lack of training in their “customer services”, where minor misunderstandings quickly become major problems, if they are not properly dealt with. Unfortunately, whilst all the main suppliers give similarly poor service, there is little incentive for them to improve. I appreciate that Which? contributors may not be a representative sample, but, we, as a nation, don’t help, by being reluctant to complain, and too easilly “fobbed off” by what is often blatant rubbish. We should, all, also, be more aware of what we are using, and the approximately cost. I know suppliers don’t, exactly, make this easy, with complex tariffs, but it’s not impossible to work out APPROXIMATE figures. If anyone has a problem, with this, I would be happy to give some guidance. Then one can ask oneself the questions “am I paying the right amount on my direct debit”, “is this estimated bill reasonable”, and so on. Many problems would not arise, in the first place, frankly, if we were more diligent ourselves. We might even get better service from our energy suppliers (although, I’m not so sure about that).

Belavistas Ltd says:
15 January 2012

British Gas is refusing to furnish me with a copy of the agreement where after the initial two years of supplying me with electricity they renew the contract for another three years without my consent. I have written to them four times to supply me with a copy of the agreement but I received no response. What can I do? Is it within their right to do so?
Thank you

Malcolm Fry says:
15 January 2012

I suspect that, if the “term” is as you describe, it would today be classed as an “unfair term or condition”, in law. You would need to clarify that with someone legally qualified. Which? Legal may be a good place to start. If BG are unable to give you a copy, it may suggest that this “term” has been removed from their T&C, for that very reason. They would normally give you a “link” to their T&C, and tell you the number of the relevant clause. After all a “renewal option” is an option for YOU to renew, not them. They should, at the very least, have written to you to ask if you WANTED to renew. I would presume you should give them a deadline to clarify this, and then proceed to the ombudsman if they fail to do so, but, again, Which? Legal can probably give you more “accurate” advice.

Len Lewell says:
15 January 2012

I have an issue with British Gas: I am in credit with my duel fuel account by over £300 and they raised the direct debit payment for my electricity! I went through my bill history and notice I have always been overcharged, last May they refunded me £171. I have complained to them but just receive the same stock reply. I think they deliberately overcharge their customers so their cash balance looks good.

Len – I have been in the same situation on several occasions and have always managed to persuade the energy supplier to either make a refund payment or not to increase my direct debit, as appropriate. Recently it involved a long call to achieve this and it helped to have a copy of my account history to hand to provide evidence. I suggest that you be persistent and if necessary say that you intend to make a complaint if no action is taken.

I have always been honest with my own meter readings and would prefer to pay what I owe each quarter rather than have a fixed direct debit, but the costs would be significantly higher.

Many people do not monitor their fuel use and could be in for a nasty shock if asked to pay extra by their supplier. I think this could be the reason why suppliers seem to like to keep us in credit, but that is just a guess.

Best of luck.

Alison says:
20 January 2012

British Gas did this to me 10 years ago when I moved house and changed supplier I rang them constantly to sort it out I am very logical and they just fobbed me off everey time and everyone I dealt with was totally incompetent and I did not owe the money. It cost me a fortune in phone calls, no-one calledme back when they should’ve done and no-one wanted to know or help me. So never mind the last 2 years this happened over 10 years ago so just imagine how much money they’ve had in that time they should be sued for Fraud bcause this is what it is, if I extorted money from people I would have a criminal record but they seem to be above the law

Ian Ibbetson says:
20 January 2012

I have a (very) small business, which has just taken over a unit that I had previously been sub-letting from some-one else. The old tenant, with my permission, gave my details to British Gas to get the billing changed over. I’ve just received my first bill. The price per unit has increased 38%, and the standing charge has increased 202% (no, thats not a typo, two hundred and two per cent). The previous tenant was on no special tariff, paid promptly by cheque whenever the bill arrived and has never been in arrears. What do you suggest I do?

Malcolm Fry says:
21 January 2012

Unfortunately, switching sites are normally not suitable for commercial users, partly because different suppliers have slightly different interpretations of the word “commercial” or “business”. All I can suggest is that you contact suppliers directly, speak to their commercial or business depts. Check that they regard you as commercial. I they do, they should be able to offer you a suitable tariff, based on your usage. If, because of low usage, they consider you as, effectively domestic, then you would be able to use their range of tariffs, on switch sites. Obviously, try this with your current supplier, first. They may well have just put you on a general tariff, because they did not know your needs. Always try to get any info in writing, as this is the only way to be able to “weigh-up” the sutability of a commercial tariff.

Len Lewell says:
22 January 2012

Dear Wavechange

Thank you for your reply.

I think there is something suspicious about raising my electricity direct debit then a few months later announcing a small discount on electricity prices so I end up paying the same!

The energy companies are treating their customers as a source of interest-free loans. There should be a law to discourage this by forcing them to pay interest to a customer when his/her account reaches a certain amount in credit.

Malcolm Fry says:
22 January 2012

I quite agree that energy suppliers should “compensate” customers, in some way, for “holding” their money. Interest would be difficult, however, to calculate, as it’s difficult to know, exactly, the AMOUNT one is in credit, at any given moment. Although they may take some persuading, most suppliers will refund an overpayment, provided it is above some specific level. A few years ago that figure was usually £100, but I don’t know if it still is. You also need to be able to show that the figure is INCREASING, over a year, and not just seasonal. After all, the whole point of direct debits, is to spread the COST, evenly through the year.

Ian Ibbetson says:
22 January 2012

Thanks Malcolm, your reply was doubly useful. Having checked the bills again it occurs to me that the VAT is only being charged at 5%, therefore I assume British Gas have previously agreed to treat this supply as domestic because of its low useage (not that they have thought to ask what my projected useage will be).

For the benefit of anyone else in this situation, I was able to get (competitive) online quotes via http://www.ukpower.co.uk/

Jeff says:
3 February 2012

WATCH OUT EVERYONE!

I just got this email:

The headline was:
“[Which? Conversation] New Comment On: Energy complaint unresolved? Go to the Energy Ombudsman!”
but there is no update to this thread above with the date 03 Feb.
======================================================================
“Author: Jay
Comment:
Hi Sir. Please call me if you can i’m sure i can help you. My name is “Jay ” No. is 020*******.
I’m working in Of-gem. i will do something for you.”
======================================================================

Firstly, Ofgem is not spelt this way.
Secondly, Ofgem do not resolve consumer issues such as this.
Thirdly, a search on the internet shows that it might be OPUS Energy.
Fourthly, the grammar and spelling makes me think that the author might be “overseas”.
Fifthly, the originators IP address is a class A, which is a bit unusual for an email originator.

I am minded to report this as an attempt to get me to change supplier under false pretences. i.e potentially someone committing fraud, which is a serious criminal offence.

What do you reckon? What will happen when they” read this.

Disclaimer: I might be wrong – will find out soon enough.

[We have edited your comment to remove the phone number. Thanks, mods.]

Hello Jeff, I have removed the comments made by Jay. You’ve rightly spotted that they could be a scam – I suggest that no-one calls that phone number if you have received it in one of our email alerts. This is likely not be Opus Energy, it could be a scam pretending to be them.

I have left your comment up as a warning to Jay that we won’t tolerate such spam messages on Which? Conversation. Thanks.

Jeff says:
3 February 2012

FURTHER TO THE ABOVE
I have just received another 7 emails from the same “person” offering me ways to get out of my existing contract with companies that are not involved with my supply problems.

I WILL be reporting this and lets hope that FRAUD is proven and punished accordingly.

Jeff says:
3 February 2012

Sorry, Patrick,

I posted the second before I read your reply.

I still think that whoever it is needs to be reported for potential mis-selling.

Hello again Jeff, please note that the emails you are receiving are from our automatic comment alert system. This person has made multiple comments on this thread, which are then automatically emailed by our system to anyone who has subscribed. This person has not emailed you directly.

We have now deleted all these comments and will continue to do so as and when we can. Thanks, Patrick.