Energy companies, with their sly machinations to pump up prices wherever possible, aren’t merely the pantomime villain of the financial landscape. They are often simply the villain. If the squeeze from your gas and electricity bills weren’t enough, many companies are guilty of mis-selling contracts and mis-billing their customers. They have the bravado to do this because they don’t believe there’s anything you’re likely to do about it. However, if you are taken for a ride, don’t be passive. You can get your money back, regardless of why it was taken.
This could have been a simple mistake with a meter reading or, more seriously, you might have been convinced to switch having been told that your bills would be lower as a result, only to find they’ve actually gone up instead.
If you’ve been charged unfairly, you need to take action sooner rather than later. But how do you spot a problem? Here are some of the things you need to look out for with regards to mis-selling.
Whilst switching your energy bills can save you money, you should make your move of your own initiative, and never at the behest of a sales person. In their quest to chalk up sales they’ve been known in to use practices such as ‘slamming’.
This one of the most blatantly underhanded ruses out there. A salesperson will come to your door and, if they manage engage you in conversation, they’ll find an excuse to ask you to sign something, saying that it is just to prove that they were there, or that they need it in order to be able to supply you with a quote later.
They’ll then use this signature to switch you over to a new (and quite possibly more expensive) energy tariff without your permission. No one can switch your energy supplier without making it clear to you that that’s the decision you’re making at the time. Any contract you sign must have the word ‘contract’ on it in plain sight. If this wasn’t the case, the contract should be cancelled and you might also get compensation as well. If you’re signature was forged, you’ll get an additional £250 on top of any other repayments.
Using Direct Debits to Mask True Costs
A sales representative will usually ask what you’re currently paying for your energy. They may then tell you that you could pay less by switching and demonstrating this by giving a figure for the monthly amount you’d pay by direct debit if you moved. This may indeed be a lower amount, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the energy is any cheaper, it simply means you’ll pay less of what you owe each month. As time goes by you’ll be building up a bigger and bigger debt that you’ll eventually have to pay back.
Ofgem are pretty clear on this sales tactic and it is generally accepted that using a low direct debit amount to make energy seem more affordable is misleading. If they intimate that your bills will be lower if you switch they need to offer a proper price comparison. This can be done either by telling you what you’ll pay or offering a close estimation based on the best available data.
Is a sales representative uses falsities to get you to sign a contract it can be considered void and money paid could be reclaimed. This includes claiming they their product is endorsed by any individual or organisation that hasn’t actually given them any form backing. Crazy as it sounds some rogue sales people even claim that they’re acting under the instructions of Ofgem, the very organisation that exists to hold them accountable for their shady dealings, when trying to get you to move energy companies.
If a sales representative failed to disclose important information about your switch you could be in line to get money back. If you are sold a capped tariff there is a ceiling on how much you have to pay that you can’t be charged over. With a fixed tariff you always pay the same per a unit, regardless of how energy prices might change, whilst a tracker tariff changes in accordance with rates set by the energy company.
It should be explained to you exactly how these different tariffs work. If you were mislead or lied to (for example if you thought you were getting a fixed tariff where prices wouldn’t go up, when in fact you were getting a tracker) you have grounds to be compensated.
Likewise, if they fail to tell you about the exit fees you’d have to pay in order to cancel the contract they’ve failed to do as regulations require. They also need to give you written notice of your cooling off period. This is a seven day (or longer) span in which you can back out of the agreement without any consequences.
Of course, even if you’re contract is valid, you may still be wrongly charged. Here’s a look at some of the most common causes of mis-billing.
Some tariffs offer cheaper rates at off peak times. It is possible you’ve been charged a peak rate at times it should not have applied, leading to a larger bill.
Meters can give wrong readings, and even if you complain, some companies can be slow to investigate the issue, leaving you with a large bill that you shouldn’t have to pay. Some will ignore you even if you taken correct readings , whereas others may neglect to take regular readings and instead just give vague estimates.
In cases where mistakes have been made, suppliers are not allowed to bill for more than 12 months according to the Back Billing Code.
The first step should be to write to your supplier providing any evidence you can to support your case. If this relates to mis-selling you might put down all details of the sales person’s communications with you; when and where the conversation happened, what they said, their name etc. If it’s to do with an incorrect bill, state why you believe the bill to be incorrect. You could use the phone if the complaint is minor, but be sure to keep notes on your conversations with the company.
If you are unable to come to an agreement with the company following your complaint then, after 8 weeks has elapsed, you can take your complaint to the Ombudsman. They are impartial and exist to come in and judge disputes between consumers and suppliers. They will look into the situation and make a judgement based on the available evidence. If they believe your case has enough substance to it, they may demand that the charges be dropped and can order that you be paid compensation.
It costs nothing to go to the Ombudsman and there are no repercussions if you lose (aside from being stuck with the bill or contract that you already had). In this sense it’s not like seeking legal help.
You can make contact by post, email or phone. You’ll need to give details of when you made your initial complaint and the progress (or lack thereof) that has been made since then. You should also put forward the resolution you have in mind. If this takes the form of a compensatory payment you should give a figure and your reasoning behind it.