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Utilities - Case studies

A gas customer for many years, Mr S was surprised to receive a 'shockingly high' gas bill of £649.21.

But challenging the amount proved much harder than he expected. Mr S used gas just for central heating and hot water in his three-bedroomed home in Oxfordshire. As the bill he received covered four months of warm summer weather, he was keen to find out why he was being charged so much.

All the homes in his road had just been fitted with new gas meters. When the new meter was installed at Mr S’ house, an engineer gave him a reading for the old meter, but this was much lower than the reading on his next gas bill which arrived soon after.

While the engineer's card said the old reading was 14,707, his bill stated 17,047. Despite having evidence of the original reading, Mr S had to complain several times to the gas supplier before it sent a replacement bill – but this was for the same amount of £649.21.

Despite complaining again, Mr S received a final demand for the same amount. 

Which? Legal advice

Not knowing what to do next, he contacted the Which? Legal. We explained that he was obliged to pay only for the gas he'd used and advised him to complain to the company's senior management team. If that didn't work, he should refer the dispute to the energy watchdog Energywatch. Mr S sent a letter, detailing the change of meter and readings, to a senior manager at the suppliers.

Outcome

Within a week, Mr S received a revised bill for £59.46. 

A Which? Legal member came to us for advice when his energy firm tried to recalculate his bill  

Which? Legal member Ian Walker came to us for advice when his energy firm tried to recalculate his bill and charge him extra.

Ian switched gas and electricity supplier from British Gas to First Utility in October 2012 and had a new gas meter fitted by National Grid in June 2013.

First Utility was told and given the old and new meter readings. But when Ian checked his bill in July, his energy use had been recalculated using a higher ‘calorific value’ – a measure of heating power – than previously and First Utility wanted an extra £23.19.

Ian queried this, and First Utility said that it had performed a ‘credit and re-bill’ on his account to correct any discrepancies that there may have been with previous billing. It later contacted him again and said the increased charge was in fact due to his change of meter

Our advice

Ian came to us for advice. We said that he should write to First Utility to say that he wasn’t satisfied with its reply, to ask it to justify that its action was legal and to show where its terms and conditions allowed it to re-bill him. We also advised that he could go to the energy ombudsman if the case wasn’t resolved within eight weeks.

First Utility didn’t reply, so Ian went to the ombudsman. It asked First Utility to explain the charges, to give Ian a written apology and credit his account with £25 as a goodwill gesture. First Utility agreed to this and also refunded the £23.19 recharge. Ian accepted this.

What the law says

If an energy supplier amends your bill, you are entitled to ask where its terms and conditions authorise it to do so. Energy suppliers are regulated by Ofgem, which aims to protect the interests of consumers. Ofgem requires energy suppliers to comply with its standards of conduct, including investigating any customer complaints in an honest, transparent and professional manner.

If you aren’t satisfied with how your complaint is handled by your supplier, then you can ask the ombudsman to investigate further. The service is free and impartial.  If you would like help changing energy supplier, you can use our free comparison and switching service at which.co.uk/switch.

For more advice on energy-related problems, including our template letter on how to complain about what you believe is an inaccurate meter reading, visit which.co.uk/meter-reading.

Our lawyers help Which? Legal member after recommended model repeatedly stops working

Just a few years after buying a British Gas-recommended boiler, Which? Legal member Derrick Bradfield was told it was unsafe to use because of insufficient gas pressure.  That was just one of a series of problems with the boiler he’d bought for £2,595 in January 2009. British Gas had recommended it based on an engineer’s assessment of what his house needed. But the engineer never tested the house’s gas supply pressure.

The major problems with the boiler began as early as February 2012. Derrick had taken out a service contract for the boiler with Npower and asked it to investigate. When it found the boiler unsafe to use due to the insufficient pressure, Derrick had to pay to replace parts not covered under his service agreement.

In October 2014, British Gas agreed to replace the entire gas supply pipe through the house to the boiler. This resolved the problem at first, but two months later the boiler failed again. Derrick was left without heating or hot water over Christmas.

The repeated failures caused such inconvenience that he had the boiler replaced by another company. He told British Gas this and said that he wanted it to pay the cost.  However, it refused to accept liability and Derrick came to us for help.

Our advice

Our lawyers advised that British Gas breached its contract under the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 as it failed to use reasonable care and skill when installing the boiler, which may have not been the right size for the house and so not fit for purpose. For contracts entered into on or after 1 October 2015, these rights are under the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

The law

Where goods or services are bought on credit, depending on the type of agreement, a credit provider may be jointly liable for a breach of contract by a trader. A consumer may be able to bring an action under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 to recover their financial loss from the credit provider.

As the boiler was paid for with a loan from the company GE Money, Derrick was able to pursue it for his financial loss and in March 2015, it agreed to write off the £1,600 balance of the loan.

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