WHAT ARE YOUR RIGHTS AS A HOME ENERGY CUSTOMER?

Published on 08/03/2020

Sunday, 15th March is World Consumer Rights Day.  So, we've pulled together a quick guide on what rights you have when choosing and dealing with your home energy supplier.

The industry regulator

The Office of Gas and Electricity Markets, usually referred to as Ofgem, is the energy regulator and 'watchdog' for consumer rights when it comes to gas and electricity.

If you visit the Ofgem website, you'll find consumer advice, guides, reports and articles and issues that affect energy consumers and what you should do if you have a consumer rights issue.

Signing an energy contract

If you decide to switch to another energy supplier and you change your mind, you have 14 days from the point you agreed your switch to do so. This is called the 'Cooling Off Period' and was put in place to give customers the opportunity to review their decisions and cancel contracts for any reason. This is only available for private individuals; as standard, commercial contracts do not include this kind of clause.

If you decide to cancel an energy contract during your Cooling Off Period, your switch will be cancelled, and you'll remain with your existing supplier. If you try to cancel outside of your Cooling Off Period, you may be required to pay exit or termination fees, even if your supply has not yet started with your new supplier.

Fixed-term and variable tariffs

When you join a new supplier, you'll either sign up to a fixed-term or variable tariff. When you choose a fixed-term tariff, you'll sign a contract which guarantees you the same rate for its duration – usually for one year, but can be for as many as five years. During this time, if you want to move to another supplier or tariff, it's likely you'll need to pay an early exit fee, the cost of which will be detailed in your terms and conditions.

49 days before the end of your fixed term, you are allowed to change your supplier or tariff without any charge. Your supplier will contact you to let you know what your options are. If you do nothing, you'll be automatically moved to your supplier's Standard Variable Tariff, which could be more expensive than the fixed-term tariff you were previously on. If you find that this has happened to you, you can change supplier or tariff immediately with no fees or charges applied.

Compensation

Earlier this year, Ofgem announced a number of new measures to ensure consumers are adequately compensated for issues arising during switches between suppliers. From 1st May 2020, customers will be compensated for delayed switches (over 15 working days) or if final bills take more than six weeks to arrive. Erroneous transfers – when a supplier switches the wrong property – will also be compensated.

You can find out more about the compensation scheme here.

Billing and payments

If you haven't received a bill from your energy supplier for a while, don't ignore it. You are legally obliged to pay for the energy you use in your home, so if your supplier isn't sending you bills, it doesn't mean you don't need to pay.

However, Ofgem have introduced regulations to support customers who have failed to notify their supplier of a billing issue. Back-billing regulations mean that a supplier cannot charge you for unbilled energy which is more than 12 months old.

There is an exception to this. If you have prevented your supplier from taking meter readings, they can back-bill up to six years in the past.

Making a complaint

If something goes wrong and you feel you'd like to make a complaint, you can contact your supplier by phone, email or letter and they are obliged to give you a response.

Suppliers have up to 8 weeks to come to a resolution on any complaint, however if you feel your supplier hasn't been able to do so, you can take your complaint to the Energy Ombudsman, who will review your complaint and if necessary offer a resolution.

You can find our complaints policy here.

For free independent advice, there is always Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline 03454 04 05 06. Their lines are open Monday to Friday 9.00am – 5.00pm or you can find more information at the Consumer Service website.

Smart Meters

Smart meters are the new generation meters that are being installed in homes across Great Britain.

While both the government and most energy suppliers (including us!) think that consumers will benefit from smart meters, they aren't compulsory and you can choose not to have one installed.

Choosing not to have a smart meter may mean you don't have access to all the available tariffs on the market, which could mean you'll pay more than you need to for your energy and you won't have access to some of the other smart meter benefits – tracking your energy use, understanding where you're spending your money and of course, no more monthly meter readings.

Our Smart Meter installation programme will begin in March 2020 and we'll be in touch with our customers when we're ready to install them in their homes.

Power cuts

Power cuts can happen for a multitude of reasons and usually, power cuts shouldn't last longer than a couple of hours. However, if you experience a power cut which last longer than this, or if you have concerns about a power cut you're experiencing, call 105 free of charge. To learn more, please visit the Power Cut 105 website.

You could be eligible for compensation after a power cut if it lasted longer than 12 hours. For the first 12 hour period, you could receive £75 compensation and  £35 for each 12 hour period thereafter. For power cuts involving more than 5,000 homes compensation is limited to a maximum payment of £300. 

Further help

If you are our customer and need further assistance, please visit our Frequently Asked Questions section.

You can also get help from Citizens Advice who offer free and confidential information and advice on issues related to money, legal, and consumer rights. Contact Citizens Advice for England and Wales here, Advice Direct for Scotland here, and in Northern Ireland Contact Consumerline. 

You can also get information about refunds, repairs and making and complaints from Which?