Which? Legal member Keith Smith asked for help with an energy bill dispute. He switched energy companies while in credit with his old supplier and it failed to give him back most of the money he felt it owed him.
At the time Keith switched his gas and electricity from Sainsbury’s Energy, he was more than £300 in credit. But the firm only repaid him just short of £56.
Keith switched on 22 July 2016 and received final account emails showing he was owed £260.50 for gas and £55.83 for electricity.
But Sainsbury’s Energy paid him only £55.83, claiming he owed them for energy used up to the time of the switch, despite having given him a final account email saying otherwise.
Keith contacted the company for clarification, but when he received no reply, he asked Which? Legal for help.
Our advice in the energy bill dispute
We advised him to make a complaint to Sainsbury’s Energy and said that if he was unhappy with its response he could request a ‘letter of deadlock’, which would allow him to take his complaint to the energy ombudsman.
Sainsbury’s Energy failed to reply, so we advised him to write to its managing director with details of his complaint.
This time, the company did respond, but still claimed that the bills were accurate and Keith wasn’t entitled to £260.
It implied that it would be open to reaching an agreement with him – but then failed to respond to numerous emails that he sent over several weeks.
Eventually, the company did reply and said that, as a goodwill gesture, it would pay him the balance of £260.50. It said this was due to the continued shortfalls in customer service.
Keith accepted the offer.
Sainsbury’s Energy continued to claim that Keith was not owed the £260.50 balance because it was used to offset the final gas use. But it couldn’t deny the terrible customer service he’d received.
In English law, you can’t usually claim compensation for time wasted, inconvenience and distress, but these factors could have been borne in mind by the energy ombudsman in reaching a decision, if Keith had gone to it with his complaint.
The ombudsman can assess what is fair and reasonable in the circumstances and factors, such as whether the company followed its Code of Practice, may be considered.
Keith’s case demonstrates how it can be worth pursuing a company that falls short of acceptable customer service standards.
Have you been in credit with an energy company when you’ve tried to switch? What happened?