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.
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.