Utilities FAQs – how to get the best deal from your utilities supplier

Getting the best deal from all of your utilities suppliers can feel like a juggling act and you may feel even more helpless now that Energywatch, the dedicated energy watchdog, no longer exists to help small businesses challenge their suppliers.

In these FAQs we answer your most asked utilities questions, let you know your rights, tell you how to deal with suppliers and access the help available to you.

How do I go about changing my energy supplier?

Utility companies are increasingly using roll-over contracts to trap their customers into terms which may not always be the best deal for them. The first step is to call your supplier’s customer services department to find out what sort of contract you have with them, when the contract finishes and whether they will they roll it over if you do nothing. What should I do if

I’m having issues with my energy supplier or feel a mistake has been made?

Always put all of your concerns in writing. Remember that your contact person at the utility provider will often be more interested in their debt reduction target than in finding a solution to help you. If you are not getting anywhere, you are advised to write to a senior official; they generally have more options available to them. Keep copies of all bills sent and any other correspondence, including the dates you sent them. If you have an issue with billing or meter readings, keep a note of gas and electricity meter readings and the dates on which they were taken. Make sure you use the words “this matter is in dispute”. The utility companies are not always allowed to cut off your supply or take you to court while the account is disputed.

What are my rights?

The Consumer, Estate Agents and Redress Act 2007 brought into force new arrangements for customer representation and introduced the new consumer watchdog, Consumer Focus. Under this act, there is no distinction between domestic energy customers and small businesses, or ‘micro businesses’. Consumer Focus defines ‘micro businesses’ as firms with: an annual electricity consumption less than 55,000kWh; or an annual gas consumption of less than 200,000kWh; or fewer than the equivalent of 10 full-time employees and an annual turnover not exceeding approx. £1.7 million. Any business meeting one or more of these criteria will benefit from Ofgem’s strict complaint handling standards, as well as a compensation scheme run by the Energy Ombudsman (with a maximum £5,000 limit) and the newly formed Consumer Focus for ‘vulnerable’ small businesses, i.e. businesses that have been disconnected or threatened with disconnection. Unfortunately, if your business falls outside of the criteria above, it will not share the same protection.

Is my energy supplier allowed to use estimates for billing?

In short, yes, though your supplier should try to read your gas and electricity meters at least once every two years. In between they are allowed to use estimates. If you can, read the meters yourself and inform your energy supplier of the readings.

What can I do if I’m switched to another supplier without my permission?

Your energy supplier should never be changed unless you agree to it. If this happens, write to either your original or the new supplier asking them to object to the transfer and return you to your original supplier. Under the Erroneous Transfer Customer Charter, they are obliged to either stop or reverse the transfer. The Charter only applies where a valid erroneous transfer has occurred and not if you have changed their mind after switching supplier. I haven’t been charged for gas or electricity and now I’ve been sent a large bill.

Do I have to pay for it?

If you have not being charged for your gas or electricity supply, contact your energy supplier immediately to ask why. You are obliged to pay for any energy you have used. If your supplier is a member of the Energy Retail Association, they cannot charge you for the energy you used more than a year ago, but you must have made efforts to contact them. I am being threatened with disconnection.

What can I do?

Unlike domestic consumers, businesses do not have the same protection against disconnection, so energy suppliers are able to disconnect for non-payment of bills. If you are late or having trouble paying a bill, get in touch with your supplier straight away to try and resolve the situation before it affects your company’s productivity.

How do I find the best deal for me?

The Forum has negotiated a free service for its Intermediate and Advanced members so that they can get the best price in the market for their gas and electricity bills. Our brokers will go out to the energy market place, speak to suppliers on your behalf and report back with the best solution for your business. Click here to find out more.

How can the Forum help? Advice If you are involved in a dispute, we will do all we can to help. We can provide advice and support to members on how best to deal with their utility supplier. Call us on 0845 130 1722. Press We have helped several of our members by getting their stories in the national press, one of those was Julia Barnett of Barnett Fare in Cornwall:

“The publicity gave me access [to people] further up the ladder within E.ON and got to the people I needed to talk to. By talking to the Forum, we realised that there were many other businesses in the same position as us.”