How to complain about your energy supplier

samantha smith
By Samantha Smith

gas and electricity

COMPLAINTS about energy companies are on the rise. Most of the time, a quick phone call can sort out the issue - but what if that doesn't do it?

Ofgem say the number of people who are unhappy with the way their complaints are handled rose by 10% from 2012 to 2013.

Meanwhile the ombudsman received more than twice as many complaints in the first ten months of 2014 than it did for the whole of 2013.

The problems

The majority of complaints - 38% - are about bills, be they late, inaccurate, or simply missing.

And these are the complaints that don't go away - of those that make it all the way to the Ombudsman, 84% are bill-related.

Prices are the next big grievance, followed by meter issues.

Problems with switching suppliers make up 15% of complaints, while 11% are about customer service standards.

Mis-selling, prepayment meters and debt issues each account for 6% of the complaints made in 2013.

How to complain

1. Follow the provider's procedure

Almost all complaints procedures start with a phone call or email to the supplier. Contact them directly, as soon as you discover the problem.

The contact pages for the biggest providers are below:

Phoning has immediate impact - but most providers' customer service centres have limited hours.

Email and there's usually an instant response - from an auto-reply, promising someone will be in touch within two days. But email is extremely useful, because it allows for attachments - think photos of disputed bills and meter readings - and provides a communication trail for both customers and the supplier to look back over quickly and easily.

Writing is like email, only slower, and it can be more difficult to keep track of who sent what and when.

2. Keep records

Noted as an advantage of email above, keeping track of your correspondence will make following up for both you and the supplier much easier and quicker.

Keep notes of who you speak to - ask, politely, for the name of the person you talk to when you call them - and the dates and times of any phone calls. This is particularly important if you think your supplier is dealing with you poorly or unfairly.

But it can also be useful should you wish to claim compensation later, as you can use your notes and phone bills as evidence of the cost in both time and money of dealing with the problem.

If the situation isn't resolved with a couple of phone calls and you end up going through the provider's official complaints procedure, communicating solely through email or letters will help you keep track of it all more easily.

3. Be reasonable

Providers have a responsibility to deal proactively with complaints quickly, efficiently and professionally.

It sounds obvious, but staying calm and friendly yourself will help resolve most issues much more quickly - so you may be fuming or panicked, but don't take it out on the customer service staff.

Have a good idea of what you want, and be willing to offer help. For example, if your bill is wrong and you want an accurate one, ask for that plus a refund - and offer to provide up-to-date, dated, photos of your meters.

4. Get support

Ofgem and several providers recommend customers with issues that can't be sorted swiftly should seek the support of Citizens Advice.

They can advise on the guaranteed standards you should expect in your dealings with the suppliers, offer impartial advice and draft template letters, and refer you to other organisations that can help you further if needs be.

Taking a complaint further

If, after eight weeks, the situation is unresolved, you can refer your complaint to the energy ombudsman.

"Unresolved" means the supplier has offered you a final response that you're unhappy with, or the complaint is still dragging on. If it's the case that you're unhappy with your supplier's offer, let them know so they can send you a "letter of deadlock".

The ombudsman services are independent and approved by Ofgem. Their role is to make fair and appropriate decisions regarding complaints.

That means they can order a supplier to "return you to the position you would be in had the mistake not occurred", and they may also ask the supplier to provide some compensation for your time and effort.

Their contact details, including an online form, are here.

If they accept your complaint, they'll contact you to agree the main issues and what you consider to be a reasonable resolution. They may ask for your authority to chase up your complaint over the phone, which can substantially speed up the process for you.

In processing your complaint they take the following into account:

Bearing all that in mind, it should take them between six and eight weeks to come to a decision.

If you accept that decision, it becomes legally binding and the supplier has 28 days to comply.

If you're still not happy

There's no rule that says you have to accept the Ombudsman's decision.

Should you choose not to, you lose the right to their resolution offer, but you still have the right to take your complaint elsewhere, such as through the courts.

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