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7 Apr 2019

Customers' top problems with their energy company (and how to solve them)

Gas and electricity price rises, customer service and meter reading issues exposed

A quarter of customers had a problem with their energy company in the past two years, most commonly to do with prices or bills.

Overall, the amount of price increases was the top issue, with 6% of all energy customers reporting this.

But inaccurate bills, inaccurate meter readings and substandard levels of service were the next most-common problems cited by customers.

Customers of the Big Six energy companies are slightly more likely to have suffered a problem than those with medium or smaller suppliers.

Read on to find out how you can resolve issues with your energy supplier. Or use Which? Switch to compare gas and electricity prices to find a cheaper firm now.

Gas and electricity price increases

It's no surprise that this was the problem most often reported to us by energy customers. 2018 saw suppliers raise their prices in droves, and some did so more than once in the year.

Though there is now a price cap for customers on standard, default and prepayment tariffs, this was increased on 1 April, allowing companies to charge customers even more. As a result, many firms are charging customers as much as they were doing before the price cap took effect.

Here's how you to find out if your prices are going up:

  • Standard tariff customers: you must be given 30 days' notice by your energy supplier. It should write to you or email you to tell you about price rises.
  • Fixed tariff customers: check the end date of your contract. Your prices cannot change during your fixed deal but when it expires, you will need to choose a new tariff or you will be moved to a standard or default tariff (often pricey).

Use Which? Switch, our independent comparison service, to compare gas and electricity prices. Switch from a tariff at the level of the price cap to the cheapest deal on the market and you could save £329 per year.

You may also find yourself paying more if your energy company raises your direct debit. This can happen because you are in debt to your energy company, are using more energy than you're currently paying for, or your previous estimated usage was too low.

Know your rights with price rises and direct debit increases.

Inaccurate energy bills

If you feel that your bills are too high, check whether they are based on estimated or actual meter readings. It should state this on your bill. Some suppliers have a key using letters, such as 'E', to indicate an estimated reading.

To keep your bills as accurate as possible, submit regular meter readings to your supplier. You can often do this via your online account or using an automated phone system. It's good practice to send them in advance of each bill. Some firms will send you reminders to do this.

If you have smart meters, they will send your meter readings automatically unless your meters have turned 'dumb'. Find out about smart meter problems and how to solve them.

If your bill still seems too high, check whether you could switch to a cheaper tariff. Your supplier should list on your bill whether you are on its cheapest deal. It won't tell you about other suppliers' tariffs though, so make sure you use a comparison website, such as Which? Switch.

Inaccurate meter readings

Smart meters remove the need to submit meter readings, as they send them to your energy supplier automatically. However if you have a traditional meter, you will need to submit these yourself.

Some suppliers will send a meter reader to your property. If you cannot read your meter yourself, ask them to do so.

If you have a query about the meter readings used on your bill, contact your energy supplier and ask it to tell you how it has produced them. If you submit a meter reading a few days in advance of when your bill is due, the supplier will estimate your usage between the reading date and bill date.

Use your phone to take photos of your meters when you read them. This means you have evidence of your readings if you need them at a later date.

What you need to know about gas and electricity meters - including what to do if you think your meter is faulty.

Poor customer service

Roughly 4% of energy customers told us that they had a problem with customer service from their energy supplier in the past two years. This may not sound like many but it's important: poor customer service was one of the main reasons why one in 10 customers switched away from their previous supplier.

In the most recent energy companies satisfaction survey, a third (34%) of customers of the lowest-scoring supplier Solarplicity said they had had problems with customer service. The average across all suppliers was 4%. When we asked people to rate Solarplicity's customer service, 35% gave it the lowest - very poor - rating.

The best way to escape substandard customer service is to switch. The same survey revealed suppliers whose customers praise their service. The top-scoring supplier, Octopus Energy, achieved a full five stars for its customer service.

See the best and worst energy suppliers, according to their customers.

Northern Ireland energy company problems

The top problem, the amount of a price increase, was the same in Northern Ireland, according to our survey. Some 9% said this was an issue they faced.

However the next most common problem was split equally between four (all experienced by 3%):

  • Problems with power cuts
  • Customer service
  • Inaccurate meter readings
  • Mistake on bill

In the event of a power cut, you should contact the NIE Networks Customer Helpline on 03457 643 643, or report it online at Northern Ireland Electricity Networks.

See the best and worst energy companies in Northern Ireland.

In England, Scotland or Wales, contact 105 to report it. This is free of charge and will connect you to your District Network Operator which is responsible for the power lines which bring electricity to your home.

What to do if your energy company problems continue

If you have a problem which your energy company cannot resolve, follow its complaints process to ensure that your problem is logged as a complaint. You should find details of the complaints process on your supplier's bill and website.

If it is not resolved after eight weeks, or you have received a 'deadlock' letter from your energy company, you can take your complaint to the Ombudsman. It will consider your evidence, and that of your supplier, and propose a solution.

Solutions can include an apology, the company to take certain actions, or even compensation. Find out how to complain to the Ombudsman.

Which? energy research

We surveyed 7,429 members of the GB general public, and 450 members of the NI general public, online in September 2018 as part of our annual energy companies satisfaction survey.

Pricing data is from Energylinx for a medium user (using 12,000kWh gas and 3,100kWh electricity per year), paying by direct debit with paperless bills, on a tariff available in all regions in England, Scotland and Wales. Data is correct on 2 April 2019.