How to avoid problems when switching energy suppliers

·5-min read
 (Pexels)
(Pexels)

From cheaper bills to better customer service, we’ve all heard about the benefits of switching energy supplier.

But while around 5.8 million households switched in 2020, taking advantage of savings worth £290 on average, research by the energy regulator Ofgem suggests that less than half of British households regularly shop around for a better deal.

Household admin isn’t the most enjoyable task, so some of this is down to burying our heads in the sand. However, there are also legitimate concerns that switching suppliers could lead to mistakes and simply create more headaches.

It’s estimated energy companies receive around 4 million complaints every year, with around one-fifth of these concerning switching woes. When errors occur, they cause unwelcome disruption. But the good news is that the industry is also being made to sharpen up its approach to dealing with them.

Ofgem has put the onus on suppliers to rectify mistakes as quickly as possible, even extending to automatic compensation being paid to disgruntled consumers.

Common switching problems

A Which? survey found that problems when switching energy companies typically lay with the old supplier. After all, it’s not in their interests for you to leave.

The three most common reasons were: poor or confusing communication from the old supplier; poor customer service from the old supplier; and the switching process being too slow.

However, existing suppliers dragging their heels isn’t the only issue. Ofgem says complaints arise not just from delays to transfers, but being transferred in error. Either through a mix up of addresses, or being misled by a pushy salesperson.

A switch shouldn’t be allowed to happen if there isn’t a valid contract in place, but the first sign of it might be when you receive a final bill or welcome letter in error.

How can switching problems be rectified?

The first point of call is always to contact your supplier. They have a duty to investigate and adhere to the guaranteed standards imposed by Ofgem.

If you have been transferred in error, then both the new and old supplier need to take action.

The supplier you reach out to will let you know when you’ll be transferred back to your original supplier and make sure you only pay for the energy you use - in other words, no double billing.

You’ll also be kept fully up to speed with how the matter is being resolved.

Compensation for switching problems

Rules in place since May 2019 mean you should automatically receive £30 for mistakes in the switching process. The errors resulting in compensation include:

  • being switched without your permission

  • not having your credit balance refunded within 10 days of receiving a final bill

  • not receiving your final bill within six weeks of switching

  • your switch not being completed within 15 days.

If multiple errors occur, you can receive compensation for each of them.

If an issue isn’t fixed or you haven’t received compensation, contact your supplier to tell them. If you aren’t happy with their response, make a complaint...

How can you complain?

When contacting your supplier, make a note of the date and time you get in touch, the name of the person you speak to and what you discuss.

Energy companies would rather you didn’t make an official complaint so, hopefully, you can have the problem rectified as a matter of urgency.

Having made initial contact, if you still aren’t sure whether you should make a complaint you can call the Citizens Advice helpline on 0808 223 1133, or visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk for guidance.

To make a formal complaint, first gather your supporting evidence. This could be photographs of a faulty meter, emails from your supplier, or erroneous bills you’ve received. You’ll also need your energy account number which will be on your bill.

You can make the complaint over the phone, by email, or through the post. Your supplier’s complaints procedure should be detailed on their website.

They should send you a response within eight weeks explaining how they’ll deal with your complaint.

If you aren’t happy with the reply, or you don’t receive one, you can take your case to the independent energy ombudsman, who can make a final decision.

Complaining to the energy ombudsman

The energy ombudsman can force the supplier to look at your complaint again and make them respond, or agree with the supplier’s decision. They can also tell your supplier to give you financial compensation.

If you disagree with the ombudsman’s decision, you could in theory take it up with the High Court as a judicial review. You need to respond quickly to the ombudsman’s decision and you may need to turn to a solicitor for advice.

How can you switch without a problem?

Although problems occasionally arise, changing energy suppliers shouldn’t be difficult.

Start by getting a copy of your latest bill which will detail your current tariff and energy supplier, and your annual usage in kWh.

You can then use our comparison service to compare prices and see how much you could save. Different tariffs will suit different households depending on their energy usage.

The level of customer service and the company’s values (for example, how green they claim to be) could also come into your decision-making.

The next step is to check whether your chosen supplier is signed up to the Energy Switch Guarantee, meaning it pledges to complete your switch within 21 working days.

Complete your application to switch (there will be a 14-day cooling-off period) before, when asked, sending your new supplier meter readings and asking your old supplier for your final bill.

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