In this guide:
What are my rights as a consumer?
What is the role of the Energy Ombudsman in customers rights?
Mis-sold product: what are my rights as a consumer?
Energy customers’ rights: FAQ
Consumer rights are designed to protect energy customers. These legal protections ensure that energy companies don’t take advantage of you – financially or otherwise. With any market dominated by a handful of providers – in this case the ‘big six’ energy suppliers – it’s important there are regulations in place to keep prices and policies in check.
Our primary role as consumers is to buy goods and services from providers. Being aware of our customer rights helps ensure we’re not ripped off by paying too much money for a particular service or remaining ignorant when a supplier doesn’t meet its contractual needs in regard to your energy supply.
You should receive a copy of your rights from your supplier once a year, but if not, you can also access it via the Citizens Advice website.
The Energy Ombudsman is Ofgem’s approved third-party mediator between suppliers and customers. It’s helped 90,000 households reach a resolution in disputes with suppliers.
When you feel that your customer rights haven’t been adhered to, it’s possible to escalate your case to the Ombudsman. Here are a few of the most common complaints in the energy sector:
Problems with gas and electricity bills
Problems arising when switching supplier
Issues with the way that energy products are sold, including doorstep sales
Problems with the Heat Trust Scheme, Green Deal, or other schemes
One issue surrounding customer right’s in the energy sphere involves being mis-sold a product, service, or contract. As mentioned above, there are certain rules that all suppliers must follow. These may be dictated directly by Ofgem, or they might be followed voluntarily.
So, what does mis-selling look like? Here are a few examples.
Being switched to a new provider without written or verbal permission
Setting a lower direct debit amount than the actual rate
Not being given the actual rate or tariff when you sign up
Not being informed of any early-exit penalties related to a tariff
If you feel that you’ve been pressured or misled by a sales representative, this could constitute being mis-sold a contract and you should complain to your supplier.
There are many regulations in place to protect consumers. Here are a few common situations that arise, and what your rights are in each case.
You’re free to switch suppliers at any time, but what happens if your supply has been switched to another provider without your knowledge or permission? Your customer rights are clearly laid out in the Erroneous Transfer Customer Charter. This states what suppliers should do in this circumstance.
The first step is to contact either of the suppliers involved. Both bear some responsibility to fix the situation. A written response should be provided within five working days of your first contact. You should be switched back to the original supplier within 20 working days, with written confirmation to keep for your records.
You shouldn’t receive any bills by the new supplier during this time. If any part of this charter isn’t followed, raise a complaint.
Note: if your supplier ceases trading, then Ofgem will step in and switch you to a new supplier to ensure your energy supply isn’t interrupted. You should receive notification this is happening and are free to switch to another supplier if you don’t like the choice that’s been made for you.
Because the prices of wholesale oil and gas are constantly in flux, your supplier has the right to change its prices. However, suppliers must let customers know of any impending retail price hikes. You should receive at least 30 days of notice before prices on variable tariffs are raised.
This gives you the chance to switch to a cheaper plan before the higher prices take effect. If you receive notification about higher prices, it’s always a good idea to use a price comparison tool to see if you can find a better deal.
Choosing a fixed price plan can also protect you from rises in price, as you’ll be locked into a set rate for the duration of the contract.
Yes. Energy suppliers can check direct debits to make sure your payments are keeping up with your consumption – whether real or estimated. If you’ve been over or under-paying for your energy use, the supplier can change your direct debit payments accordingly.
However, the Direct Debit Guarantee protects customers’ rights. If your payment is going to be changed, your supplier must give you a minimum of 10 days’ notice. If you’re not notified, you can dispute the charge with your bank.
You can prevent unexpected changes to your direct debit by regularly taking meter readings and submitting them to your supplier. Arming yourself with accurate meter readings also helps you dispute inaccurate bills.
Whether it’s due to recent price hikes or a change in circumstances, if you’re having difficulty paying your bills, the first order of business should be to contact your supplier. Energy suppliers must work with you to provide a sensible, affordable payment plan.
If you’re unable to stick to the payment plan, the next step is often a prepayment meter. This allows you to pay for your energy use up front, with a pay-as-you-go tariff. You’ll pay off a small portion of your debt each time you top up the meter with credit.
Additional help is available to consumers in the form of government grants and assistance schemes. If you’re on benefits, you might be able to join the Fuel Direct scheme. This allows you to pay any outstanding debts from your benefits. Fuel Direct is available to some consumers who receive:
Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
Energy suppliers will do everything possible to help work out a repayment plan that helps you keep the lights on. However, in extreme circumstances, as a last resort, you might be disconnected.
If you’ve decided that switching supplier isn’t really for you, it’s possible to cancel your new plan provided you act quickly. Whether or not you can cancel depends on the contract’s terms and conditions.
A contract isn’t always put in writing. You can also have a verbal agreement with a new supplier, which also constitutes a legally binding contract. If this agreement was made in a public space or at home, you have a 14-day cooling off period to change your mind. You’re free to cancel your gas or electricity contract at any time during these 14 days, with or without reason.
The same holds true if the agreement was made over the phone or online, according to the Distance Selling Regulations and the voluntary code called Energy Sure, signed by all big six providers.
You can also cancel your contract if the selling agent has not provided a copy with information on who to contact for independent advice.
Again, this depends on the timing of your cancellation. If you are signed up to a fixed-term energy contract with an end date, it may have come with an exit fee attached if you leave the contract ahead of time. You can switch without being charged a fee provided you’re in the final 49 days of your contract term.
Customers shouldn’t be charged an exit fee if they’re moving to a new house and plan to stay on the same energy tariff. If you do move and are charged a cancellation fee, be sure to raise a complaint with your supplier.
Just as with any other service, you have the right to complain when you’re not happy as a customer. The first step when you have a problem should be lodging a complaint with your provider. A phone call may clear up the problem quickly.
However, sometimes issues with energy providers are more complex. In this case, it’s better to leave a paper trail by writing to the supplier either electronically or through the post. Keep a record of this in case you need to escalate your complaint.
If your supplier isn’t resolving the problem, you should next get in touch with the Citizens Advice Bureau. They can point you in the right direction, depending on what the problem is.
When the supplier still can’t resolve the problem, it’s time to turn to the Energy Ombudsman to protect your customers rights. You’ll need a letter of deadlock from your supplier, which clearly states that it is unable to resolve the issue.
The supplier has a period of eight weeks to resolve the problem. After this point in time, you can contact the Ombudsman for help.
Last updated: 21 December 2020