Npower, Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE), British Gas and Scottish Power have all announced gas and electricity price increases and inevitably the others will follow. So here’s what you need to know:
Read your meter straight away
Always give your energy supplier your meter reading on the date of any price increase. This will mean you don’t end up paying the higher price for energy you used before the prices went up.
Your energy supplier will either “estimate” your usage and bill you accordingly or they will use “actual” meter readings that you provide and calculate the bill using your actual usage. In most cases they get the estimate wrong. Whether this means that they bill you too much or too little it is a potential disaster either way. Billing you too much means you pay more than you have to each month and underestimating your bill means that you will be hit with a balancing bill later, probably when your least expecting it. It is therefore always best to provide regular meter readings to avoid the “estimate trap”.
If you have only just switched supplier and now they have put their prices up
If you’re on a fixed rate deal this shouldn’t matter. If this is not the case you should complain and point out that you were not told about the price increase when you took out your contract with them. Obviously, if you literally moved to the supplier days before the price increase the strength of your complaint will be stronger than if it was months ago. Where prices are increased or other changes made to your contract that would leave you worse off, you can switch supplier without any penalty and regardless of any fixed term period that you may have signed up to.
It may be time to switch
Competitive long-term fixes are likely to start disappearing so you should consider this immediately. However, it is only worth switching to a fixed deal so that you have some certainty on exactly how much you will pay.
Consider if you are a “vulnerable person”
Energy companies assess this on a “case by case” basis but the definition that they apply is: “A customer is vulnerable if for reasons of age, health, disability or severe financial insecurity, they are unable to safeguard their personal welfare or the personal welfare of other members of the household.”
If you think that you fall within this definition tell your energy supplier immediately as it will mean that they will treat you with more care.
If you receive a catch-up bill
If your supplier has changed the prices on your tariff during the time you were receiving estimated bills, contact them to make sure they properly spread the extra units over the entire billing period. If you do not do this you may find that if your bills have been underestimated that you will receive a catch up bill which will ask you to pay the difference at the new increased rate.
If you can’t afford your energy bills
If you can’t afford to pay, keeping in regular contact with your supplier is vitally important, as if you fail to do this you are giving them the ammunition that they need to cut you off. Work out how much you can afford to pay per week or month and offer to pay this sum towards the arrears. All fuel companies should agree, under their code of practice, to accept an offer of repayment in instalments at a rate that you can afford.
If your supplier turns up to cut you off
Ask to see the warrant that should have been issued by a magistrates court. If they do not have this don’t let them in. If they do have a warrant consider i) did they give you at least 24 hours’ notice that they were going to apply for the warrant – if not refuse entry and say that the warrant has been improperly obtained, and ii) is the bill in dispute – if it is then under the Electricity Act 1989 (as amended by the Utilities Act 2000) the warrant should not have been issued.
If you’re not happy with your supplier complain
If your supplier doesn't give you a satisfactory response within eight weeks then you have the right to take your complaint to the Energy Ombudsman, which makes an award to the consumer in more than nine out of ten cases.
For more information on your rights in relation to energy supplies or any other consumer or legal matter visit Dean’s website.