Your Guide to Energy Consumer Rights
09 June 2017 | OVO Energy
When you buy goods, you’re safeguarded by consumer protection laws. Whether you’re buying a laptop, a lightbulb or a lawnmower, you can expect it to be ‘fit for purpose’ and to keep working efficiently for a reasonable length of time.
You can also expect certain standards of service – both from the stores that supply you with goods like these, and from people like your hairdresser, solicitor or window cleaner.
Your gas and electricity are covered by the same kind of consumer protection.
Most energy customers are perfectly happy with the service they receive from their energy supplier, and never have a need to complain. However, if something does go wrong, it’s important to know your rights and obligations – and how to get the problem sorted out.
Am I protected by Ofgem?
Ofgem is the energy regulator and ‘watchdog’ for consumer rights when it comes to gas and electricity. Ofgem is short for the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets.
It oversees energy companies and makes sure they keep within the law and comply with all energy-related regulations. If an energy provider is accused of breaking any of the regulations, Ofgem can investigate and, if they find the supplier has indeed broken the law, fine them.
However, Ofgem can’t investigate unless they know something has happened. That’s why it’s vital to know your rights, and alert Ofgem if you think anything’s wrong.
Find out more about Ofgem and what they do, in our complete guide to the UK's independent energy regulator.
I signed up when an energy rep came to my door. What are my rights?
There are strict laws about ‘doorstep selling’, which apply whether you signed up at your home, your workplace or a friend’s home.
The seller must give you all the information you need to make an educated decision, including the total price you could pay, how it’s calculated and how you can pay. They must tell you how to cancel and at what stage you might have to pay an exit or termination fee.
They must also tell you that you have a 14-day ‘cooling-off’ period, during which you can change your mind and cancel without giving any reasons. If they don’t tell you about this cooling-off time, you’re entitled to cancel any time in the first 12 months.
What should I do if I think I’ve been mis-sold an energy plan?
If you believe any of these things has happened, you have a right to complain:
- You’ve been switched to a new supplier without your permission.
- The new company lowered your monthly Direct Debit payment to make it seem cheaper, but in fact you’re on higher rates.
- They didn’t tell you about your cancellation rights.
- They didn’t actually tell you how much you’d be paying on your new plan.
If you need to complain, start by contacting your energy provider. They should explain what to do on their website – just search for ‘How to complain’. The web page should also list the steps you can take if you’re not happy with their response.
What happens if I change my mind while I’m switching energy companies?
That depends on what stage you’ve reached in the switch, and how you were signed up to your new provider. In most cases your new supplier has to give you a 14-day cooling-off period when you can change your mind without giving a reason. Just contact the energy company to let them know.
Once you’ve passed the cooling-off period, you may have to pay an exit fee if you change your mind.
Can my energy company change my gas and electricity prices?
If you’re on a ‘variable’ plan, contract or tariff, your energy company has the right to change the price of your energy. However, if you’re on a ‘fixed’ plan, your rates should stay the same for the length of your fixed-rate contract.
Most energy providers only raise their rates if wholesale prices rise, and they should always give you at least 30 days’ notice. You can then transfer to a cheaper plan or a fixed rate tariff if you want.
You can also choose to switch to a new supplier. Once your energy company has warned you of a price rise, you have 20 days from the date the price increase takes effect to let them know you want to switch. If you miss this deadline, your next statement will include the price increase.
If you decide you’re happy to stay with your existing provider, you should take a meter reading on the day when the new price starts, and give it to your supplier. They can then make sure you don’t pay for any extra energy at the new, higher rate.
I pay by Direct Debit – can my energy provider change my monthly payment?
Yes. Your supplier will review your Direct Debit regularly to make sure it’s still on track to cover the energy you’re using. If you’re paying too little (or too much), the company has the right to change your Direct Debit payment to even things out.
If they do decide to increase or decrease your Direct Debit, your provider has to give you at least 10 days’ notice – this is part of the Direct Debit Guarantee. If they don’t give you enough warning, get in touch with your bank to dispute the payment. You may even be entitled to compensation.
Do I have the right to challenge a Direct Debit increase?
Yes. If you’re not happy with the reasons your energy supplier has given for increasing your monthly payment, you can ask them to explain where they’ve got their figures. You should take meter readings to prove the actual amount of energy you’ve used.
My energy company wants to switch me to a smart meter – can I refuse?
We believe there are many good reasons why every home should have a smart meter, but yes – you can refuse to have one if you want.
However, if your energy provider wants to upgrade you because your current meter is old or unreliable, you should agree, because it might be a safety hazard. In that case, you can still tell them you don’t want a smart meter. Instead they could install a traditional meter for you.
If you’re worried about the information your energy supplier can find out about you from a smart meter, don’t be. You’re protected by a government code of practice that sets minimum standards for energy suppliers installing smart meters. If you’re an OVO customer, you can find out here about the data we collect from your smart meter.
I think my energy company is using the wrong meter readings – what should I do?
If you believe your energy company is billing you the wrong amount because they’re using incorrect readings, the best thing to do is to send them regular, accurate meter readings. If you’re an OVO customer you can do this online in My OVO – but if your provider doesn’t give you the opportunity to give them online, do it by phone.
Check your bill to see whether your supplier is using estimated or actual readings. If you see an E by the meter reading, it’s estimated; C means it’s your own ‘customer’ reading; and A stands for ‘actual’ reading. If it’s an A or an E reading and it doesn’t match the numbers on your meter dial, you need to query it and get accurate figures to the energy company right away.
Can I get compensation for power cuts?
You can’t claim compensation for financial loss due to a power cut. However, there are standard power cut compensation rates if you lose the gas or electricity supply to your home.
For unplanned electricity outages, the amount of compensation for power cuts depends on how many homes lost energy and whether the problem was caused by bad weather.
If the power cut WAS NOT caused by bad weather, you’ll get:
- Nothing if the electricity was off for less than 12 hours.
- £75 if it was off for more than 12 hours.
- £35 for the next 12 hours, and for each 12-hour period after that.
However, if more than 5,000 homes lost power, you’ll be limited to a maximum payment of £300. If you want to know how many homes were hit by a specific power cut, get in touch with your local District Network Operator.
If the power cut WAS caused by bad weather such as storms or floods, it doesn’t make any difference how many homes were affected. In this case you’ll get:
- Nothing if the electricity was off for less than 24 hours (this can be 48 hours if it’s a really severe storm).
- £70 compensation for no electricity if the power was out for 24 (or 48) hours or more.
- £70 for each 12-hour period after that, up to a maximum payment of £700.
For planned electricity power cuts, your electricity distributor must give you at least two days’ notice, unless it’s for emergency repairs. If they don’t give you the minimum notice, or they cut off your electricity on a different day, you can claim £30 if you’re a domestic customer and £60 for business customers. You need to claim this compensation within one month.
For planned gas cuts, your gas transporter must give you at least five days’ notice. If they don’t give you enough notice, you can claim £30 power cut compensation, but you must make your claim within a month.
If you’re on the Priority Services Register (PSR), your gas transporter must arrange temporary replacement cooking and heating facilities for you.
For both planned and unplanned gas cuts, if your gas is off for more than 24 hours, you’re entitled to £30 power outage compensation, and then another £30 for each 24-hour period you’re without gas from then on.
How do I claim compensation for power cuts?
If the power cut was caused by bad weather you should be paid compensation for loss of power supply without having to make a claim. The same should apply if you’re on the Priority Services Register. However, if you’re sure you’re entitled to power cut compensation but don’t receive it automatically, you can still submit a claim.
How does OVO protect vulnerable customers?
If you’re dependent on your electricity supplier for medical reasons, if you’re a pensioner, or if you have other special requirements, you can apply to be on our Priority Services Register.
What are my rights if I’m having trouble paying my energy bills?
If you’re struggling to pay for your electricity and/or gas, get in touch with your energy company right away. They must give you advice, tell you where to get independent advice, and help you set up a payment plan at a rate you can afford. You may also qualify for grants towards your energy, or be able to use the Fuel Direct or Third Party Deductions scheme, where you pay for your energy (and pay off your debt) direct from your benefits.
If your provider wants you to agree to a payment plan that’s too much for you, you have the right to refuse.
However, your energy provider also has rights. If you keep falling behind with your bills, they can install a prepayment meter in your home. They do also have the right to disconnect you under certain conditions, but this is very unusual.
What should I do if I want to complain about my energy provider?
You should always start by raising your complaint with your energy supplier, so they have a chance to resolve the issue for you. However, if they don’t resolve it within eight weeks, or if they send you a ‘deadlock letter’, you’ll need to contact the energy ombudsman. They’ll assess your complaint to see whether they can help, and advise you what to do next. If they agree that the energy company has done something wrong, the ombudsman can force your provider to put it right.
For a quick explainer on all the main energy tariffs available on the market today, read our helpful guide.