What can I do if I have problems with my energy company or want to switch to another?
Energy is vital to our health and wellbeing, so it's important that we get the best deal and the best service. The energy market is dominated by 'the big six', although there is still much that we can do as consumers to ensure we're getting value for money.
Getting the best deal
Are you getting the best deal from your energy company? Sometimes your energy company may be able to offer you a better tariff, so it pays to take a closer look at your bills. Many people remain with the same energy company all their life, but there are savings that can be made by shopping around. Most companies offer lower tariffs to attract new customers, and you may be able to make significant savings by taking advantage of this. There are a number of accredited comparison sites that can help you track down the best deals. You may get a better deal by having one company supply both gas and electricity, or by arranging to pay by direct debit.
The recent 'Big Switch' initiative has demonstrated the power of consumer purchasing, by inviting energy providers to a 'reverse auction' that resulted in special tariffs for customers signed up to the scheme.
The Derbyshire-based not-for-profit organisation 'The People's Power' is currently encouraging customers to join their collective purchasing scheme. Once they have enough members they will begin negotiations with energy companies to provide cheaper energy, and cheaper green energy. You can sign up now by visiting their website.
Remember do not buy from a Cold Caller – check it first!
Getting cheap energy is a particular problem for people in rural areas with no access to mains gas. Heating oil is expensive, not least because it has to be ordered in large quantities. A collective oil buying scheme run by Rural Action Derbyshire has alleviated some of these problems. They report that in many instances members can cover the cost of their membership with their first order. For more information visit their website.
If you are on a low income, or you are a vulnerable customer, you may find that you are able to get additional help from your energy supplier. Winter Fuel Payments are paid automatically to people who have reached state pension age, and Cold Weather Payments for people on qualifying benefits are triggered by extended periods of cold weather. Your supplier may be able to offer you a reduced rate tariff, known as a 'social tariff'.
You may be able to get help under the Warm Home Discount Scheme. This is an automatic rebate provided by energy companies to people getting the guarantee credit part of Pension Credit. It may also be available to people on low incomes, depending on the policy of your energy company. Check with your supplier for details. Funds are limited, so customers are advised to apply early.
And don't forget to check what other help your energy provider is offering. Frequently suppliers offer free or discounted energy saving equipment such as low-energy light bulbs or insulation.
Getting the Right Service
One of the most annoying issues when dealing with energy providers can be poor service. Long call waiting times, lost correspondence and missed appointments can turn simple procedures into a nightmare. These headaches become more serious when they lead to miscalculated bills, disconnection or prevent us getting information about tariffs and other charges.
You have a right to expect a reasonable level of service from your energy supplier. Many companies are keen to promote their customer service levels in their company literature, but sometimes things go wrong and you may need to take things further.
Your first action should be to raise a formal complaint with your energy supplier. Your supplier should publish details of their complaints procedure, which will include contact details and information about how your complaint will be dealt with.
You should try and include as much relevant detail in your complaint as possible, such as previous contacts you've had concerning the issue, meter readings, visits by engineers and so on. Your energy supplier must resolve the issue within a set time limit (8 weeks if your supplier is one of the big six, 12 weeks for a smaller company).
If you're not happy with the response you can ask for an internal review. If the energy company cannot resolve the issue they will send you a 'letter of deadlock'. At this point, if you want to take the matter further, you can contact the Ombudsman Services: Energy.
Watch out for the scammers!
Very few of the major energy companies sell supply contracts door-to-door, but those who do have signed up to a code of practice. Energy sales people should not pressure you into an agreement, should give you ample opportunity to review the contract, and should only visit you between 9am and 8pm. Unfortunately there are some bogus salespeople who may trick you into signing a contract. Beware of anyone who asks you to sign for a meter reading, who asks you to pay cash up front, or who claims to be from an organisation or government department which does not sell energy.
Be wary of anyone who tries to sell you energy-saving products or discounted prepayment top up cards. A number of people have been caught out recently by firms selling 'energy efficient' roof coatings, which have turned out to be ineffectual silicon sprays. And you should never buy a prepayment card on your doorstep - this is always a scam!
Common Issues with Energy Companies
Comparing and Switching Energy Companies
Collective Energy Schemes
These promote people joining together to purchase energy directly from the supplier and save money by cutting out the providers.