Making a complaint to your energy supplier
Last Updated: 22.01.2011
If you are unhappy with the service you've received from your energy supplier there are steps you can take to resolve the matter.
Most complaints about energy companies are about inaccurate, late or unclear energy bills and poor level of service. If you are having problems with your energy supplier read on and find out what you can do about it.
The complaints procedure
Energy companies have to comply with stringent complaint-handling standards.
If you have a complaint about your energy supplier you should contact them in the first instance to give them a fair chance to sort out your problem.
Write to your energy supplier
You should complain directly to your energy supplier in the first instance - its details will be on your bill. Unless it's a simple problem, you should put your energy complaint in writing, either in a letter or email. Make sure you keep a copy of anything you send, including energy bills, and note when they were sent.
If your problem involves energy billing or meter readings, it's important to make a note of gas and electricity meter readings, and to record the dates on which they were taken.
Remember... before you complain:
- stay calm! You are more likely to get a good result if you do not let your emotions get to you;
- make sure that you know what you are unhappy about - is it that your bill is wrong? Is it that someone has been rude or unhelpful to you?
- be clear and concise. If you are ringing about your complaint, make a note about what you want to talk about before you make the call, so you do not forget something. Also, have an idea of what the company could do to make things right for you. If you do not feel confident enough to speak to someone, try writing a letter or an email;
- keep a record of what happens, notes of any calls you make or any emails or letters you send. Also keep any correspondence you get back from the energy company.
Get further energy advice
If your energy supplier doesn't resolve the problem or you're unhappy with its response, you should contact Consumer Direct for further advice about resolving your complaint.
It can give advice but cannot take up your complaint with an energy supplier on your behalf. If appropriate, Consumer Direct may forward the details of your complaint to an agency that is authorised to take direct action, such as Trading Standards.
If you are a vulnerable consumer (such as a low-income household or you receive certain benefits) you can also contact energy watchdog Consumer Focus which may be able to take up your complaint on your behalf. Consumer Focus will not be able to take up your complaint unless you've given your energy supplier a chance to resolve the problem first, so you'll need to explain how the supplier responded to your complaint and why you're unhappy with it.
Resolving your energy complaint
Energy suppliers have a set time limit in which to resolve most complaints. The time limit is eight weeks for the big six energy suppliers (British Gas, EDF, Eon, Npower, Scottish and Southern Energy and Scottish Power) and 12 weeks for smaller suppliers.
If your complaint to your energy supplier reaches a deadlock, contact the Energy Supply Ombudsman. A deadlock means you've been through your energy company's complaints procedure and reached a point where your supplier says they can do nothing more to produce a satisfactory solution.
The Ombudsman has the power to decide what action should be taken and can force an energy supplier to take action. This could be some practical steps to sort your problem out, an apology, explanation or compensation.
Complaining to the Energy Ombudsman
If you have already complained to the energy company, there are three situations where you can involve the Energy Ombudsman:
1. Eight weeks have passed
If after eight weeks of making your complaint you are still not happy with the way the energy company is dealing with your complaint, you can pass it to the Energy Ombudsman.
You must do this within nine months from the date you first told the company about the problem.
2. Getting the company's final response
You might get a letter from the energy company that says it will no longer be handling your complaint. The letter might say for example that the energy company can't do anything for you and that is its final position. We call this a 'deadlock letter'.
You might reach a deadlock situation with the energy company before the eight weeks have passed. This is the point where the company and the customer cannot reach agreement, having explored all possible alternatives and approaches. The company might issue a deadlock letter if:
- there is no new information to be gained on the complaint from you or the energy company;
- the complaint escalation processes have been followed;
- you and the company still cannot agree to a resolution within the company's complaint procedures; and
- having more time will not improve this position.
You have six months from the date of the letter to pass your complaint to the Energy Ombudsman.
3. Unable to complain
If you experience real difficulty in registering a complaint with the energy company, the Energy Ombudsman may be able to help. Contact the Energy Ombudsman for further advice.
4. The Energy Ombudsman complaint form
When you contact the Energy Ombudsman, you will be asked what has happened and a decision will be made if they have the power to deal with your complaint.
A member of the enquiry team will write down the details and send you a filled-in complaint form.
Make sure that you:
- check the information on the form;
- do not write any additional information on the form;
- return one signed copy, keeping the other for your records and;
send copies of any additional information you have to support your complaint.
How the Energy Ombudsman deal with complaints about energy companies
If your complaint is accepted, and you agree that they should do so, they will ask the company you're complaining about for the information about what has happened so far. A decision is then made whether your complaint is one that can be dealt with and you will be informed.
How long it takes for a resolution depends on how complicated the complaint is and how quickly they can get to the facts. To help the complaint you should send copies of all the information you have about your complaint when you return the signed complaint form to the Energy Ombudsman. During the process you will only hear from the Energy Ombudsman if more information is required.
When a decision has been reached, you will receive a letter with their provisional conclusion. If you and the energy company accept this as a settlement of the dispute, it will become the final decision and the energy company must put in place any remedy that is called for.
Debt during a dispute
If you are complaining about a bill and you are having difficulty paying the full outstanding amount you should contact the energy company to let them know. If the ombudsman decides to make an award or to correct a charge this would be credited to you at the end of the process. If your complaint is accepted the Energy Ombudsman can ask the company not to pursue you for the disputed charges but it may be unwilling to do this. You should try and continue to pay for your undisputed on going charges.
What the ombudsman might offer in the final decision
If an award is offered, and you accept it, then the energy company has agreed that it will keep to the decision and take the action asked for in the final decision. The company may provide any or all of the following:
- a service or some practical action that will benefit you;
- an apology or explanation;
- a financial award.
It is not the Ombudsman's role to punish energy companies when deciding what solution to provide. If a financial award is needed, this will be the amount that is considered necessary to settle a particular dispute. This can be as much as £5000 (including VAT).
So that the same problem is less likely to happen again, it may also recommend that the energy company should make changes to its policies or procedures.
Once you have received the ombudsman's final decision, you have up to two months to decide whether you accept or decline the decision. During this time you may wish to speak to friends, relatives or consumer advice services such as a North Ayrshire Citizens Advice Bureau, about the decision made.
It is important to let the Energy Ombudsman know your decision as soon as possible even if you decide not to accept it.
Accepting the final decision
If you accept the final decision, the energy company has agreed that it will keep to the decision and take the actions asked for. The company has up to 28 days to put in place any remedy called for. The Energy Ombudsman will contact the company until satisfied that this has been done.
Rejecting the final decision
If you do not accept the final decision or do not accept it within two months, you lose the right to the solution offered in the final decision.
However, you will be free to follow other routes to try to sort out the problem in a way that suits you better.