Friday, 27 July 2012

How to complain about your energy supplier

Complaints about energy companies are up again so is there any way to sort the problem out yourself? And if not how can you get the best results if you need to complain?

Energy companies are not in favour at the moment, along with putting up prices steeply during the past year, their customer service records aren't great.

Add to this the fact Centrica, which owns British Gas, has reported a 15% profit for the first six months of the year thanks to the colder weather we had between April and June.

So it's not a huge surprise that complaints about energy companies to the Energy Ombudsman were up over the past year to 74,505 from 54,794 in 2010/11.

Of those people getting in contact with the Ombudsman, the number one reason was to do with billing issues including; disputed charges, customer service, inaccurate invoices, back-billing and meter readings.

A separate set of results from Consumer Focus this week, shows slightly more positive results with complaints about energy companies down between January and March of this year.

However, although overall they fell by 7% in this period, it's not all good news as some companies, such as EDF saw complaints rise.

Complaining to your energy company is something most people avoid at all costs as it typically involves spending hours on hold and talking to lots of different people who really aren't interested. However, there are a few things you can do to avoid having to complain.

Estimated readings
Energy companies love estimated readings, whereby they guess the amount of energy you've used and send you the bill. Instead check the actual readings yourself and send these to your energy company. It's simple enough to do and will mean you're actually paying for what you're using rather than an estimated amount.

You can also use the Meter Readings app (69p) which will keep an eye on how much gas, electricity and water you're using for you and predict how much your quarterly bill will be.

Get your money back
If you've been over-paying your energy bills, the company is not legally allowed to hold onto the extra money and you can claim it back if you're in credit. If for some reason this doesn't happen, your supplier needs to let you know if it has reasons for withholding the cash and if you disagree with its reasoning – you can challenge it.

Keep your supplier informed
If your situation changes and you start struggling to pay your bills, call your provider and let it know as soon as possible. It should be able to give you advice on different tariffs and information on eligibility benefits such as the Warm Home Discount scheme.

Don't be afraid to switch
There is little benefit in being loyal to an energy company so don't be afraid to switch if another provider is offering a cheaper deal. This will save you on average £256 a year so there's no point putting it off. However, before you do anything check your current contract, as there may be a penalty fee if you leave early.

When you've exhausted all else, what's the best way to complain?
Unfortunately complaining is never a fun task, however there are some simple tips which will make the process easier.

Be organised
Before you begin make sure you have copies of all the relevant documents, including any correspondence with the company, and take the full names of anyone you speak to. Try and also get a direct dial for them, or ask them to call you back if it's not a freephone number. Email is even better as you've got a paper trail of all the communications between you and the company which will be useful if the situation escalates.

Write a letter
A letter, or an email, is a direct way of addressing your complaint. The letter (or email) needs to include all the facts in a concise way, including any reference numbers and names of people you've dealt with. Keep it polite and include all your contact details and make sure you keep a copy of it for your own records.

When you come to send it, go for recorded delivery so you have proof of when it arrived.

Template letter:
Your address
phone number
Name of person you're contacting (if you have it)
Their title
Company address
RE: Your reference or account number

Dear <name>,
  • Apologies for writing, but you feel this is a problem they should know about
  • Clear statement of the case including dates and times
  • What you would like from them to fix the problem
  • A reasonable deadline for them to respond by
  • Your positive previous experiences of the company
Thanks for their time, if you don't hear back from them with a resolution you will seek help from a relevant party (eg: government agency, consumer group)

Yours sincerely,
(sign here)

Your printed name and email address

CC: If you have copied the letter to anyone, give their name and title here

Enclosures: If you've included photocopies of any relevant documents state them here

What next?
You need to wait eight weeks until you move things forward and in this time the company should respond. If it hasn't, or you're not happy with the response, go to the Energy Ombudsman.

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