We all know how to complain, but here is how to get a result!
It is hard to think of other consumer-facing businesses that give rise to more complaints than the energy industry. Anyone reading this guide probably has or has had reason to complain to their energy supplier.
Believe it or not, things used to be worse. The industry has improved significantly since the start of deregulation, and has upped its professional standards when it comes to cutting down the number of complaints it receives.
Still, too many aspects of how the energy industry is organised are left fundamentally flawed, and at some point you may find yourself debating one of these topics with a representative of an energy company:
- Why is my gas and electricity direct debit so high?
- Why am in credit for my energy, yet my supplier is still taking my direct debit?
- Why am I in debt with my energy supplier when I pay by direct debit?
- Why does switching energy supplier take several weeks?
- What happened to my opening meter reading?
- Why has my supplier not billed me for so long?
- Why is my energy supplier not returning my calls or emails?
Hopefully, you won't have to go through one of these discussions, but if you have a genuine problem then here is what you should do about it to get it resolved.
The first thing to do is contact your energy supplier and explain exactly why you are unhappy. They cannot do anything unless they know that there is a problem, and you may find yourself pleasantly surprised with their response. Having your recent gas and electricity bills to hand will help as you will be able to give dates and reference numbers, making your complaint easier to trace and follow up. It is worth making a note of the time and date of your call, as well as who you spoke to, as energy companies can lose complaints amongst their millions of customers. The energy companies are now obligated to have a standard complaints process, and can be fined if this is not followed, so your notes from the call could really help.
Make it clear from the outset that you are making a complaint, so that the representative knows to follow the supplier's internal complaints resolutions procedure.
You can ask to escalate the issue at any point during the call if you feel that your conversation is not going anywhere, and that the representative is not helping to resolve the issue. In practice this means that you should be transferred to a supervisor with more decision-making power. If at the end you still feel that this is not producing the result you deserve, you should inform the supplier representative that you will put the complaint in writing, and ask for the correct address. Ask the representative to make a note in your account that you do not consider the dispute resolved.
Depending on how serious your complaint is, you may want to put your complaint in a letter and send this letter by registered post (as opposed to email). Be explicit in what you write, add all the relevant details, and make sure you put in your customer reference so your energy supplier can identify you and your complaint.
Changes can't be made overnight, especially when you are a company with such a large customer base. If you are with one of the "Big Six" suppliers (British Gas, EDF Energy, E.ON, npower, Scottish Power and SSE) then they have a maximum of 8 weeks to resolve your complaint, which rises to 12 weeks for the smaller suppliers.
If you feel that the supplier has not resolved your complaint to your satisfaction within eight weeks, you can take your complaint to the Energy Ombudsman Service. Note that you have to give the process eight weeks and that you cannot start the complaints process by going to the Ombudsman Service first.
The Ombudsman Service is independent, established by an act of Parliament, free to use and (even better) its decision is binding on energy suppliers. To help your case, it is therefore all important that you keep all the supporting documentation together and presentable, in order to prove that your complaint against the energy supplier is reasonable and - most importantly - upheld.
The Ombudsman is not there to punish suppliers, but the service can order energy suppliers to pay up to £5,000 to a (really lucky) claimant. If you accept the Ombudsman's ruling, it means that you consider the issue resolved and that you will not be taking your complaint further.
On the other hand, you can still take the issue to court if you don't accept the ruling.
You can find the Ombudsman service online or by phone on 0845 055 0760.
If you do not feel that your complaint is being dealt with properly, but you are still within the 8 or 12 week complaint period, then the Citizens Advice Consumer Service may also be able to help. The Citizens Advice Bureau is a consumer-facing organisation that can give you advice on a number of energy-related issues.
Contacting Citizens Advice may also be useful when your issue is not about a complaint against your supplier, but related to any of the following issues:
- Understanding your energy bill
- Paying your energy bill
- Help with energy efficiency advice
The Citizens Advice webpages are here.
If your complaint is that your gas and electricity is too expensive - then you should consider switching gas and electricity as a simple remedy to high prices and expensive bills.
Thankfully we can also help with that, so don't forget to use our very easy energy price comparison service to get the best price for the gas and electricity you use at home.