ON top of soaring prices, energy customers are being hit by a swathe of other problems.
From costly late fees to issues with switching, our postbag is bulging with complaints from readers.
This week, our consumer champion Lucy Alderson explains what’s going on — and how you can get help.
BILLS RISING AGAIN
ENERGY bills are set to go up again next year.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt confirmed in his Autumn Statement that the Energy Price Guarantee will rise to £3,000 from April — instead of keeping bills capped at £2,500 for the average household for two years.
In the last year, bills have soared by £1,223
WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH FIXED DEALS?
Octopus and Ovo are allowing customers to switch back to fixed deals before April, without paying a fee.
This would allow customers to pay less than the Energy Price Guarantee.
WE’VE heard from customers who have been hit with penalties if they are late paying their bill.
When The Sun analysed fees we found a huge variation in the amount charged.
And the figures are confusing and complex for customers to compare.
For example, Outfox The Market charges the most upfront at £25 for missed payments.
Scottish Power takes £10, but this goes up to a maximum of £20 if unpaid after 28 days.
So Energy also charges £20, but said it “rarely” applies the fee.
British Gas deducts £13 if customers do not pay within 28 days.
After 36 days, you’ll be charged an extra £7.
Bulb takes £15 for the first missed payment, and £20 for delayed payments after that.
Many suppliers say they apply these charges as a last resort and there are no rules about how much they can charge
Simon Francis, from the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, said: “Many people have failed direct debits through no fault of their own, for example their wages being paid late due to a bank holiday. We would urge energy firms to waive these charges.”
If you’re charged a late fee, ask your firm for help.
MILLIONS of hard-up and vulnerable customers could be missing out on free help.
Energy firms should offer extra support — such as hot meals or a hotel stay — during power cuts and a free annual gas safety check to those on its Priority Services Register.
Regulator Ofgem has urged energy firms to get better at identifying customers who need the help.
But The Sun has found that So Energy, Bulb, Octopus, Outfox The Market, Eon and Eon Next do not display any information on bills.
Simon said: “If you think you should be on the Priority Services Register, get in touch with your supplier.”
CUSTOMERS used to switch suppliers for better prices, but now there is very little difference.
They may still want to move due to poor customer service experiences, but some are stuck.
We’ve found three firms that charge a “security deposit”, which is cash up front, to customers with poor credit scores
Shell Energy charges between £150 and £300 but says only a “small number of people” are affected.
Bulb asks for a deposit twice the amount of an estimated monthly bill.
Ovo Energy said the fee varied based on the customer’s credit rating.
IS YOUR CREDIT SCORE AT RISK?
ENERGY companies can carry out credit checks on customers.
Hard checks leave a footprint on your file, while soft ones don’t.
Bulb, Shell Energy, Scottish Power and British Gas will perform hard checks on some customers they deem high-risk.
Before switching, ask if you’ll undergo a hard check.
Laura Suter, head of personal finance at investment service AJ Bell, said: “Usually these hard checks are saved for applications for debt, so if you have too many on your file it can be a red flag to other lenders.”
‘I skipped bill to aford my kids’ uniform’
STRUGGLING mum-of-two Kirsty Read faced an impossible choice earlier this year.
In order to buy school uniforms for her kids, Lewis, 15, and Leo, five, she knowingly paid her energy bill late and incurred penalty fees to her supplier Scottish Power.
She owes £850 and has been hit with £50 in late fees this year.
She’s struggling to keep up as her £1,400- a-month income from benefits often doesn’t cover all her monthly outgoings.
She said: “In August, I had to buy the children their school uniform and it’s not cheap. I had to skip my energy bill or they would have gone without.
“I get paid weekly, which I put towards food and transport to to help my grandad. Any money left over is for my kids.”
A Scottish Power spokesman said: “Scottish Power is committed to supporting customers through difficult times.”
‘Due a refund and living on beans’
PENSIONER Steven Campbell was hit with a £470 upfront charge when he switched to Ovo Energy in June because of his poor credit score.
The 73-year-old, from Swindon – who lives with wife Georgina, 73, who is also retired – wanted to switch from Outfox The Market but was shocked when asked to pay a deposit due to his low credit rating.
“I thought it was unfair but I borrowed £300 from my daughter to help pay it,” said Steven.
Ovo Energy told him that he would become a customer in five to ten days.
But after he went for more than a month not knowing whether the switch had been successful, he cancelled it in August and returned to Outfox The Market.
He was left chasing a refund for his £470 for two months.
He said: “At our age we just cannot afford to have £470 that we cannot get back. Our daughter is now struggling and needs her £300 back that she loaned to us.
“Missing out on £170 makes a lot of difference when you’re struggling to buy decent, wholesome food. We’re on frozen and tinned foods, and we’re eating beans and spaghetti more than we ever have.”
After The Sun stepped in, Ovo Energy refunded Steven’s money.
A spokesman said: “We’re very sorry.”