A number of readers have asked how to resolve problems with their energy supplier. To that end, I've compiled this page to help people figure out what to do. Indeed, this information probably holds true for any suppliers you have, not just energy or utilities.

The general principle of all this is to give the supplier a chance to solve the problem first. If they do not, then progressively "step up a notch", giving them a chance to respond each time. There's a process that you really have to go through if you expect any chance of success. Cutting corners doesn't really work.

As a general rule, keep a file of all the correspondence you've had with your supplier. Of course, you probably won't have thought to do this for the first few phone conversations, but keep notes from whenever you can. Keep copies of all letters you send or receive, and keep notes of phone calls you make or receive. It's generally good manners to tell the call agent you're going to take notes. Make sure you get their name, and the time/date of the call. You could even agree the salient points of the call with them so that you have agreement that your notes are fair and accurate. Most suppliers keep recordings of all calls, so they'll spot any discrepencies betwen your notes and reality, so be careful.

Whilst all this sounds pretty boring, it's important. It helps you build up a full and factual picture of everything that has happened, which you'll need if things escalate. If you want compensation for the time you've spent, then you need to account for that time. Similarly, if you're being lied to over the phone, you need to prove it. By having notes you have verifiable evidence of everything that has taken place.

Okay, so you've got a problem, and you want to sort it:

1. Customer Services

Talk to their customer services. Start with the normal equiries phone numbers, and then try their customer complaints departments. The phone numbers for these departments should be easily available on bills, their website or even Yellow Pages.

Whilst some call centres can be very frustrating, it's important to state your case as clearly and calmly as possible. No one likes to be shouted at, and call agents will generally try to help you out more if you're fair to them. Under no circumstances should you personally abuse the call agent. Most suppliers record all calls, which will be used if your case escalates. You'll lose all of your credibility if you've been rude or disparaging to the call agents you've spoken to.

How long to persevere with Customer Services/complaints is difficult to define. You need to give them a few opportunities to resolve issues, as it's always possible an individual call agent makes a mistake. If they repeatedly say they're going to do something and fail to do so every time, then move on. If you're making slow progress then it might be as well to struggle on.

2. Energy Watch

Lodge a complaint at EnergyWatch (the independent watchdog). They're there to resolve these sorts of things with energy suppliers. They have an obligation to let the supplier sort the problem before they do much more. In many cases the supplier will resolve the problem almost immediately they they receive notification from EneryWatch. Either way, the supplier has about two weeks to respond to complaints (note: that's time to respond, not necessarily to fix everything!). If a supplier fails to perform, then EnergyWatch has the power to impose fines and such like.

There seems to be conflicting opinions about how effective Energy Watch are, but they're the official route, so it's best to give them a chance to sort out any problems you have (it's all part of following due process).

3. Write to the Management

If all of the above fails, then it's possible to write to the management of the supplier in question. Whilst some CEOs employ vast teams of people to handle complaints of this nature, the CEO's office is not an extension of customer services. Using this route sparingly is the best way to get a thorough response.

In general, when writing to the CEO, write a formal letter, keeping to the point, and stating facts only. Avoid adding in emotional arguments and supposition. Finally, clearly ask for whatever it is you want them to do. If you want you bill reviewed, say so. If you want them to call off the debt collectors, say so. Just make sure you ask for something they can actually provide, and is in some way related to your complaint. Grumbling about how high their prices are isn't going to get you very far.

Other Options

If none of that works, you may be able to lodge a complaint with the Energy Supply Ombudsman. You might also want to contact Watchdog at the BBC, or talk to Citizens Advice about what you can do. They're all last resorts, so try the above first.

Lastly, change energy supplier (there are lots of resources on the Internet for this sort of thing, so do a few searches to find them). You can't actually leave a supplier until your account has been settled, but it sends a clear signal that you're not prepared to be messed around. Also, it ultimately hits your supplier where it hurts them most - in the wallet.


British Gas is money making machine!

British Gas is threatening me with legal actions. They are demanding standing charge of £1300 for the gas which I never used, never signed for anything, never had any contract with the british gas. I am shocked about this whole thing. In their letter they said its your property. You have to pay.
Need some advice. Thank you.

Submitted by Roza (not verified) on Mon, 2008-07-21 18:28.

Great advice.Here's a few more tips to help a successful resolution:

  • Always specify what you want done and when.
  • The call handler will probably give you just a first name, so ask for their surname (or staff Nº, or team reference) & location.If they know they can be identified they're less likely to lie or fob you off and more likely to be positive & helpful.If they won't tell hang up and try again.
  • If the call handler says something will happen, try to pin them down to a date and time.Then if it doesn't happen when promised call immediately and ask why not.Say who made the promise and when, and take the second handler's details too.This lets them know you're keeping notes and are serious about getting it sorted, so they'll be in trouble if it's not.Stay calm, focused & polite.
  • Tell the call handler if you'll need to take unpaid time off work or incur expenses, like the cost of getting to & from home specially for an appointment.Ask them to note that in your file.That establishes your right to "special damages" if you need to claim for the cost of a broken appointment (you can't claim anything if the appointment is kept).
  • Some suppliers automatically pay compensation for a broken appointment, though you might have to remind them - ask if they don't offer it.If not, or the broken appointment has cost you more than the offered amount, tell them their failure to turn up when agreed is a breach of contract, for which you are entitled to general and special damages.Ask them to note that in your file.
  • If they don't turn up, or something goes wrong, or the job isn't done properly, you must tell them about it as soon as you can and give them an opportunity to put it right within a reasonable time."Reasonable" depends on the circumstances.If you've no hot water & heating in the middle of winter with a couple of toddlers and a housebound disabled granny, that means as soon as practically possible, like within 4 hours.If the boiler pump is making a funny noise but is still working and it's the middle of summer, a week might be reasonable.Agree the date and time when they will rectify the problem.
  • If they don't try to fix things within a reasonable time you can get someone else to do it and reclaim the cost, but you must tell them first.Then confirm in writing (by recorded delivery) what happened, what you did about it and what you told them.Enclose a copy of the repairer's bill and details of any other costs & expenses incurred (lost wages, travel costs, phone calls, postage, time spent trying to get things sorted at £25/hr), and ask them to reimburse you within 1 week as damages for breach of contract.
  • They'll probably ignore your letter, deny liability, ask for more information, make an inadequate offer or stall you.You should be prepared to negotiate, and confirm everything in writing by recorded delivery.After a month, if you don't think you're getting anywhere with a proper compensation offer, write a "Letter before action" by recorded delivery to their Registered Office giving them one last chance to make a realistic offer.Give full details ofexactly how much you want and say unless they agree within 1 week you will issue a county court claim without further notice.
  • If you do need to claim, use the Court Service Money Claim Online.It's layman-friendly and easy to use, with very good help & FAQ sections, and you don't need a lawyer.If you're not happy doing it online, ask your local county court for a small claims pack, which will have all the forms & leaflets you need.As Coofer says, your local CAB will help with the claim form.You add the court fee and interest from when they should have paid.Give their Registered Office address, not the one you've been dealing with.This should provoke a positive reaction from the legal dept.
  • If the case does get to court, make a "Subject access request" under section 7 of the Data Protection Act 1998.That will cost you £10 (which you can add to the claim), and within 6 weeks they must send you a copy of all data they have relating to you.That should include records of all phone calls, visits & notes, which could help to support the facts of your claim.
Submitted by One Who Knows (not verified) on Thu, 2008-09-18 15:35.