If you have overcharged energy bills, there’s no need to worry – hundreds of thousands of people are overcharged every year by their supplier, and every one of those people are refunded the full amount or have their account in credit. In this article, we will explain what you can do to avoid overcharging and what to do if you think you have been overcharged.
Overcharged Energy Bills
Billing blunders have led to around four million UK consumers being overcharged by their energy supplier. According to industry experts, the total that has been overpaid is almost £300 million. The recent research conducted by price comparison service uSwitch.com has highlighted just how extensive the problem is, and how important it is for all of us to keep an eye on our bills.
The most common error reported, which is claimed to affect 36 per cent of overcharged customers, was suppliers applying the wrong tariff to an account. With many of us living increasingly busy lives, it’s probably not a high priority to double check that the deal we have been offered is actually applied to our bill, but in light of this new research, maybe our priorities should change.
Other complaints included incorrect fees being applied, meter readings being entered incorrectly, direct debits being drawn for incorrect amounts and even bills being muddled up with other peoples. As much as the billing errors themselves were an issue, time wasting was a big problem too. Around a fifth of overcharged customers waited up to two months for a resolution, and 12 per cent waited for more than two months. A staggering 9 per cent are still waiting to get their money back.
Tips for Avoiding Overcharging
Overcharging is much more common than you’d think, but there are things you can do to avoid being the victim of an inflated energy bill. Here are some top tips for avoiding overcharging:
1. Check your bill with a fine toothed comb
It might not seem like a high priority to you, but with energy bills making up around 10 per cent of the typical household outgoings, checking your bill should have a firm place on your regular to-do list. Know what tariff you are on, and make sure that’s how you are being charged. Check any discounts or promotions have been applied, and ensure that the total actually adds up correctly.
2. Read your own energy meter
Give your supplier no excuse to overestimate your energy use by reading your own meter and submitting your readings regularly. Most suppliers allow you to submit your meter reading online, so you don’t even have to wait in a call queue. If you’re already using a smart meter, this is not a worry, as your supplier knows exactly what you’ve used all the time.
3. Shop around for better deals
If you’ve been with your supplier for more than a year or two, chances are you’re already on their ‘standard tariff’, which is shorthand for ‘very expensive tariff’. Switching to a cheaper supplier could see you up to £300 better off, so make sure you compare costs regularly to ensure a better deal.
4. Ditch the exit fees
Exit fees are used by energy suppliers to lock you into a tariff with them for a fixed amount of time. They are often applied to fixed rate tariffs, where the supplier agrees to freeze the price for a fixed amount of time, but can sometimes be applied to variable rate tariffs too. Make sure you know if there is an exit fee applicable before signing up to a new tariff, and keep in mind that if your supplier hikes their prices, they are not allowed to charge you an exit fee if you decide to leave.
5. Query any big bills
Don’t just accept that your supplier knows best. If you feel like your bill is exceptionally large, contact them to talk about it. It may be that your fixed rate deal has ended, in which case it might be time to switch, or it may simply be a mistake on their estimates. Your supplier is obliged to treat you in a fair and decent way, so if you feel you are not receiving excellent customer care, contact the Energy Ombudsman for further support.
What to do if you think you’ve been overcharged
If you’re worried that you have been overcharged and you want to know how to dispute it, here’s what to do next.
Step 1: Make contact
First of all, contact your energy supplier, preferably in writing, with details of your complaint. You can complain by telephone, but as phone calls are that much more difficult to prove, it can sometimes be beneficial to deal with written correspondence instead. Email makes this quick and easy.
State that you believe you have been overcharged and that you want someone to look into it and credit a refund back to your account. Include all relevant evidence, such as copies of your energy bills and meter readings. You should receive notification with a complaint reference number.
Step 2: Be insistent
If your initial complaint is rejected, don’t give up right away. Write to your energy company again, asking for a more senior person to look into the complaint. Include all the evidence you already sent, as well as details of what you have done so far to try and resolve the situation.
Step 3: Go to the ombudsman
If you are unable to reach a resolution in good time with your supplier, the energy ombudsman may be able to help. They state that suppliers have eight weeks from the time you first made a complaint to resolve the problem, after which you can escalate it to them. Have in mind, realistically, what you want to happen in order to fix the problem.
Whatever you do, don’t stop paying for your energy supplies while following the complaints process. You can ask your supplier to put the disputed portion of your bill on hold while they are investigating, but do pay your ongoing charges or you risk being cut off.
Don’t let overcharging go unchallenged. 29-year-old Hannah Dixon recovered over £500 from npower earlier this year because she refused to give up. Talk to Citizens Advice for more help with energy debt, or contact your supplier to see what assistance they have on offer.