Law guide: Complaints & disputes

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Energy suppliers

Energy suppliers

Contents

If you decide to change your existing provider or the particular service plan you're on, you'll be entering into a new contract for the provision of services.

Many people use price comparison websites to compare the different offers available, the amount of money they can save and customer reviews. They often buy their selected product through these websites. Other people buy services from 'door-to-door' energy company salespeople.

It's important to note that if you're in debt with your current supplier or have a bill that has been outstanding for 28 days, you might not be able to transfer your account until you pay the outstanding amount.

Changing your mind

If you sign a contract at home after an uninvited visit from a salesperson and the contract is for more than £42, they must give you a 'notice of cancellation'. This gives you a minimum of 14 calendar days to change your mind and cancel. Time starts running from the day you sign the contract. If the salesperson doesn't give you a 'notice of cancellation', the contract may be illegal.

If you sign a contract because you've received sales literature or contact details via the internet, television, mail, telephone or fax, you must be given a period of 14 calendar days in which to cancel. This period starts to run from the day after the date that you agreed to go ahead with the contract. During this time, you can change your mind and cancel the contract without incurring any financial penalty, but you must tell the supplier that you want to cancel.

If you sign a contract in the salesperson's business premises, you won't have any cancellation rights. You will have the right to cancel, however, if you signed it immediately after the salesperson told you about the service at a place other than at their business premises, e.g. your home.

Some businesses might give you longer to change your mind.

Challenging a contract under the law

If you've signed a contract and the opportunity to cancel it (if any) has passed, you might still be able to challenge it if the terms of the contract:

  • are particularly onerous (oppressive) and weren't pointed out to you;
  • were set out in a separate document, which you didn't see or which wasn't attached to the document you signed; or
  • are either unfair or unreasonable under the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 and the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

See Introduction to your legal rights for more information about your legal rights.

Common problems

You might have a problem with your energy supplier about:

  • Sales
  • Service issues
  • A faulty meter
  • Customer service
  • An incorrect bill
  • An incorrect meter reading
  • Disconnected or interrupted supply
  • The transfer of energy suppliers

High gas bills

If you believe that your bill is too high because your gas meter isn't working properly, you should contact your gas supplier. You might be asked to test the meter by recording readings over a period of time. If there still seems to be a problem, your supplier should contact the National Grid, which will remove your meter for testing and, if necessary, replace it.

High electricity bills

If you think the electricity meter isn't working properly, you can ask your electricity supplier to check your meter. You might be asked to test the meter by recording readings over a period of time. Alternatively, your electricity supplier might ask their metering company to visit you and test your meter, or they might install a meter checker next to your current meter for around 2 weeks.

If a fault is found, you won't normally have to pay for these tests and you'll be sent a new bill to cover your actual electricity consumption.

Substandard service

Suppliers are legally required to provide their service with reasonable care and skill and within a reasonable time. If they don't, they'll be breaching the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

There are also guaranteed minimum levels of service ('guaranteed standards') that the energy sector must meet for each individual consumer. The guaranteed standards set the level of compensation that should be paid when a service provider fails to meet the required standard.

Interrupted service

If you experience any delay, inconvenience or interruption in the supply of your gas or electricity, you might be entitled to compensation under the Quality of service Guaranteed Standards. For interrupted services, you must complain to your Distribution Network Operator, which should be named on your bill (not to your supplier).

Double charging

Switching energy suppliers isn't always smooth. Sometimes there may be an overlap resulting in your old supplier continuing to bill you for a period when a new supplier has been appointed.

If this happens, try to resolve it with the customer services of your old supplier by sending a copy of the bill from the new supplier. If the matter can't be settled informally, you'll need to make a written complaint.

Mis-selling

If you're asked to sign a document described as a 'registration' or 'proof of visit' form, check that it's not actually a contract to provide you with energy services. Some unscrupulous sales representatives might hide a contract underneath the form or try to get you to sign it without your knowledge. Some consumers have had applications made to change their energy service providers without their knowledge or consent.

Always read the small print before signing any document.

Acting in the ways described above is fraud, which is a form of theft. You should report it to the police and inform Trading Standards, which can impose criminal sanctions.

In civil law, you won't be liable for a contract that has been mis-sold to you on the basis that it is illegal. For more information, see the Citizen Advice Bureau's advice guide on energy scams.

How to complain

If you have a problem with your energy supply or service, it's important that you contact your supplier's customer services in the first instance. You need to contact your supplier within 12 months of learning of the problem.

Major energy suppliers must address a complaint within 8 weeks or risk being fined by the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem), which regulates the electricity and gas markets.

Your supplier should have a formal complaints procedure, and you should ask for a copy of it.

Usually, an energy supplier will be able to fix the problem at this stage, but if it's unable to, you may need to escalate your complaint within the company.

Escalating your complaint

If you're not happy with the outcome of your complaint, or it's still unresolved, you can refer it to the Energy Ombudsman.

For more information, see The Energy Ombudsman.