Consumer Focus and Energy UK are urging consumers to find out what extras they may be entitled to from their energy firm, and look into how they might be able to get a better deal and save money off their bills.
The call comes as new research from Consumer Focus shows that when asked about 10 key consumer energy rights (outlined below) less than one in four customers (38%) were aware of the majority of these key rights. Almost two-thirds of customers (62%) were only aware of half or fewer of their entitlements.1
To help put the information customers need at their fingertips, a new consumer resource, entitled ‘Staying Connected’, is being launched by Consumer Focus, Ofgem and the energy industry.2 Over the next few months every household in Britain will receive a booklet in the post with impartial advice on your energy rights, how to get the best deal and where to find help when you need it. The booklet will accompany your latest energy bill, but it is written by independent consumer watchdog, Consumer Focus.
To mark the launch of this new resource, Consumer Focus is publishing a list of the top ten consumer energy rights which could help save you money:
- You don’t have to wait in all day for a meter reader or engineer. If your energy firm needs to visit you at home, you are entitled to a 2 hour appointment slot and compensation if they miss it – £20 if it was gas or £22 if it was electricity related (£42 if both).
- Your supplier can’t backdate charges for any more than 1 year, if they have made a mistake and underestimated your bills. Giving regular meter readings to your energy firm can help ensure you always pay the right amount.
- Your energy firm must give you 30 days notice of any price rise, and cannot implement the increase if you tell them within 15 working days that you’re leaving. They also can’t charge fixed-term deal customers an exit fee if they switch within this time.
- Consumers can claim compensation for power-cuts from their energy distributor (not supplier): £54 for an outage of 18 hours (£27 for each additional 12 hours without power); or £54 for 4 or more power-cuts in a year lasting 3 hours plus.
- People who are of pensionable age, disabled or chronically sick can get extra help through their supplier’s Priority Services Register. This includes free quarterly meter readings, bills in large print or braille or bills sent to a friend / relative, and a free annual gas safety check for those in receipt of means-tested benefits.
- If you switch supplier it should take no longer than 5 weeks (2 weeks cooling off and 3 weeks for the switch). Suppliers have also committed to make switching hassle-free, so the buck stops with them to sort out any problems, not the customer.2
- You are entitled to £250 compensation if you are switched to an energy firm without your permission. You are also entitled to compensation if you can prove you were deliberately misled by a sales person.3
- If you get into debt your supplier must agree repayments that are affordable for you, they cannot set the amount. Some suppliers also have trust funds which can help you to settle debts or other essential costs – visit the Charis website for more details.
- Suppliers offer free insulation to those on low incomes, which on average cuts £120 a year off your energy bill. Many are offering cash incentives to low income households that take up free insulation and are providing free insulation to other customers too.2
- If you switch your energy supplier you have 14 days to change your mind and cancel the switch, without incurring any charges.
Adam Scorer, Director of Policy and External Affairs at Consumer Focus, said:
‘Households across the country are worried about their energy bills. But the simple fact is many people don’t know what their rights are or where to find help, and they could be losing out as a result.
‘We want to help consumers to keep more money in their pocket by putting the information they need at their finger-tips. The staying connected booklet which will be hitting doormats soon, is an easy reference guide that people can use to help get the most from their energy firm and tackle any problems that may arise.’
Philip Cullum, Partner, Consumer Policy and Demand Side Insight at Ofgem, said:
‘It’s vital that consumers know their energy rights and where to turn for help if things go wrong. Ofgem is committed to putting greater power in consumers’ hands as part of our wider reforms to make the energy market work well for consumers, so we welcome this handy new guide from Consumer Focus.’
Christine McGourty, Director of Communications and Public Affairs at Energy UK, said:
‘Energy companies recognise that the cost of gas and electricity, and a whole range of household bills, is a real concern for people in these difficult financial times. They take their responsibilities to all their customers extremely seriously, and there are a range of schemes in place to help those in particular need, including offers of free or subsidised insulation as listed in the staying connected booklet.
‘It’s important that all customers know their rights when making any kind of purchase, and energy is no different. Anyone with concerns about their energy bill should contact their supplier in the first instance to find out what help may be available.’
The organisations are also highlighting that Citizens Advice now runs a helpline that will offer advice specifically for any problems consumers have with energy firms. The Citizens Advice consumer service can be reached on 08454 04 05 06. Citizens Advice is also running Big Energy Saving Week (22-27 October 2012) to help people save money on their energy bills. Help and advice on energy saving is available from the Energy Saving Trust on 0300 123 1234 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and 0800 512 012 in Scotland.
Notes to editors:
- Populus interviewed, on behalf of Consumer Focus, 1684 GB adults aged 18+ who are responsible for paying the household energy bill, by telephone between 10-19 August 2012. Surveys were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults. Populus is a founder member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.
Of those surveyed 3 per cent weren’t aware of any of the rights, 45 per cent were aware of 1-4 of the rights, 14 per cent were aware of 5, 34 per cent were aware of 6-9 and 4 per cent were aware of all 10 rights. Awareness varies most widely by age with higher awareness among older consumers – around 45% of consumers aged 55+ were aware of 6 or more key rights compared to around 30% of 18-34 year-olds.
14 days to change your mind when switching Free insulation available for those on low incomes Any debt repayment amount must take account of what the customer can afford to pay Compensation for misleading face-to-face sales or switching without your permission Switching should take a maximum of 5 weeks Extra meter readings and gas safety check for vulnerable customers Eligible for compensation for a powercut of 18+ hours No exit fee for a fixed term deal after a price rise Underestimated bills can only be charged back for a year Compensation for missed engineer / meter-reader appointment Percentage of consumers aware of right
Percentage of consumers unaware of right
Please note: The rights in the above table are arranged with those with the highest consumer awareness to the left of the table and the lowest to the right.
- Consumer Focus was given this new statutory duty when DECC transposed the Third Energy Package. These new requirements came into force in late 2011.
- Please see http://www.energymadeclear.co.uk/#making-it-simple-to-switch For suppliers’ commitments on this issue.
- All suppliers offer discounted or free insulation to their customers. Free insulation is usually only available to those living on low incomes, in receipt of benefits, or older customers, but some firms have extended their deals. Even those who haven’t extended their free deals still provide discounted insulation. There are some restrictions – e.g. for loft insulation you usually have to have no, or a limited amount of, insulation currently.
- EDF Energy is offering free insulation to all customers – with some exclusions relating to the suitability of your property. EDF Energy is also offering a £200 incentive to low income households that register for free insulation.
- SSE is also offering free cavity wall and loft insulation to all consumers – with some exclusions relating to the suitability of the property. SSE is also offering a High Street Voucher worth £75 to low income households who take up free insulation.
- British Gas is also offering free insulation worth up to £1000 to all GB households, regardless of their energy supplier, that apply by the 30th November 2012. They also offer a £50 referral scheme to help vulnerable customers, many of whom could also be eligible for loft clearance support.
- Scottish Power has also extended its free insulation deal to all customers, with some exclusions relating to the suitability of your property.
- E.ON only applies the free insulation deal to households living on low incomes / benefits – but it will also provide a £100 cheque to any of these households who take up the deal.
- Npower also offers free insulation to households living on low incomes / benefits.
The Home Heat Helpline (0800 33 66 99) provides free, independent advice to those who are worried about being able to pay their bills on everything from what rebates, grants and benefits might be available to tips on saving money and energy efficiency.
- The Energysure Code – guarantees sales standards on face to face marketing. Compensation is guaranteed for anyone switched without permission (a signed contract or recorded verification phone-call is needed) or using fraudulent means. Consumers are also entitled to compensation if they have been deliberately misled by the salesperson and that affected their decision in signing up to a contract. This includes giving misleading information on the product, tariff, pricing, discounts or payment terms. As it can be difficult to prove verbal mis-selling we would always urge consumers to get any promises from the salesperson in writing.