Now is not the time to be paying for a mistake
Few of us are in any doubt that we’re in the midst of an energy crisis. Bills are already soaring and are set to rise by another 51 per cent in April as Ofgem’s price cap is reviewed. The chief executive of Centrica, which owns British Gas, has suggested the crisis could continue for the next 18 months and bills may reach an annual average of £2,000 this year alone.
To add insult to injury, Citizens Advice says many customers of failed suppliers have been faced with problems including incorrect bills, long waiting times for refunds, and customer service failures. But while prices have been rising steadily, if your energy bill is higher than usual it could also be down to an error.
At a time when finances are being squeezed more than ever, it’s more important than ever to be vigilant against billing errors. Here are five ways your energy bill could be wrong and what you can do about it.
1. The price rise is an error
To find out if your bill is wrong, first take a good look at your latest bill. The amount you are paying may have gone up, and probably has given increasing bills, but don’t just focus on the price.
Martyn James, spokesperson for Resolver (a free, independent issue resolution service), says: “It’s hard to know for sure if you’re being billed incorrectly – especially with the mega price hikes starting to come into effect for many people.
“But if your bill suddenly jumps, have a look at the consumption on your bill rather than cost per unit (allowing for the fact it’s winter).”
Your bill may also have risen if you’ve recently started using a new appliance, such as a dishwasher or tumble dryer, so factor these costs into a rise in your energy consumption.
2. Your bills are estimated
One of the main reasons for billing errors is estimated rather than actual bills. If you haven’t given a recent meter reading, or you don’t have a smart meter that records your energy use, your provider will guess how much energy you’re using.
It predicts this by looking at your average usage, or if it’s a new home it will take the average for the house size. However, this can be wildly inaccurate and lead to you under or overpaying on your bills.
To make sure you’re only paying for what you really use, avoid estimated bills at all costs. It’s always worth taking a photo of any meter reading you make just in case problems then occur.
If a supplier asks for money for a past bill, and more than 12 months has passed, it can’t ask for you to pay the money back if the error was its own. This comes under the back billing rules.
Tashema Jackson, energy specialist at energyhelpline.com, says: “If your monthly payments are leaving you with a significant debt on your account, make sure you up your payments so you don’t find yourself with a hefty bill to pay.
“However, if you are also significantly in credit, adjust your direct debit down and don’t forget you can claim back any excess cash you have built up on your account.”
3. You’re paying for different dates
Your bill will show you the dates you’re paying for, this could be monthly or quarterly or could depend on when you moved into or out of a property. Check these are correct, especially if you’ve recently moved.
“Make sure you photograph your meter(s) when you take your readings. If you’re moving in to a new property make sure this is the first thing you do. Start your bill from the date you take residence in case energy costs for doing up the property are tacked on at the start of your contract,” explains Martyn James.
4. Your meter number is wrong
Another reason for a billing error could be that it is for the wrong meter. This could mean you’re paying for another household’s energy. To check, compare the meter reading on your latest bill with the reading your meter is showing. If they are very different there may be an error.
Also, look at the meter number and check this is the same as the number on your meter. If it isn’t, take a new photograph of your meter and give this to your provider, and ask it to send you an updated bill.
5. Your meter is faulty
There could also be a fault with your meter. Citizens Advice advises turning off all the appliances in your home, including pilot lights, and checking if the numbers on your meter’s display are still moving.
If it stops, then turn on one appliance at a time and check if it starts again. The charity says if the meter begins moving very quickly, it may be faulty. If it’s a gas meter you should report it to the National Grid gas emergency line on 0800 111 999.
“Errors do occur, so if you find one on your account let your supplier know straight away. They should correct it for you. If you are not able to resolve things with them, you can also speak to the Energy ombudsman after going through your energy supplier’s complaints process,” says Tashema Jackson.