Steve believes he has been overcharged by as much as £10,000 by BES over the past five years.
AN independent energy watchdog with teeth was urgently needed to help UK businesses resolve lengthy and financially crippling disputes with energy suppliers, according to the Energy Advice Line.
The UK’s leading price comparison and switching service for businesses said some firms were being turned away by the Energy Ombudsman resulting in some disputes going unresolved for years at significant financial cost.
A recent report by consumer organisation Which? showed that energy companies received more than four million complaints from customers last year, but many failed to pursue their grievances and were losing out on millions of pounds in refunds and compensation.
Julian Morgan, managing director of the Energy Advice Line, said many businesses did not pursue their complaints because some energy suppliers deliberately frustrated their attempts to do so. He said a watchdog with the power to actively help businesses resolve disputes with energy companies was necessary because consumer watchdog Consumer Focus was due to be disbanded in 2013.
“We have helped businesses who are at the end of their tether in a dispute with an energy supplier and they have come to us with literally nowhere else to turn,” Mr Morgan said.
“These business owners are spending an inordinate amount of their time trying to resolve a complaint when they should be running their business – only to be frustrated at every turn.
“Often they are owed money due to mistakes that the suppliers themselves have made. It is time a new independent watchdog which has the power to act against energy suppliers was set up to help these firms who really are struggling to get a fair deal.”
Steve Procter is one Energy Advice Line customer who could have used the help of an independent watchdog with the power to act against energy suppliers. He says that his bitter five-year dispute with Business Energy Solutions Limited (BES) pushed his children’s soft play business 4Kids Ltd to the financial brink because he believes he was overcharged by thousands of pounds.
The problems began after he agreed to a business energy contract during a telephone conversation with a BES salesman who cold-called him the day he moved into new premises.
When gas bills of £600 started to arrive each month he realised that something was terribly wrong; the bills were double those of his other premises that were twice as large and supplied by another gas company.
Steve provided BES with meter readings as evidence the business was using nowhere near the quantity of gas that he was being charged for, but he was told that under the billing plan he had agreed to at the beginning of his contract, meter readings were not taken into account. Steve told BES he was not aware of this provision in his contract, but the company refused to change the way his bills were calculated.
BES had provided him with no written contract or details of his terms and conditions, but through time-consuming perseverance Steve realised his gas bills were based on historical energy usage from previous years, when an industrial company using double the amount of energy occupied the premises. Worse still, he discovered he had rolled over to a four-year business energy contract with BES without knowing it.
Steve was continually told that he was contractually bound to stay with BES and could not switch suppliers. Sometimes he telephoned BES every day with meter readings as proof that he was being charged for gas he wasn’t using.
But despite his efforts, and appeals that his company was going bankrupt paying for energy it was not using, BES continued to take £600 from his account via direct debit to cover the bills.
“There have been times when we just switched everything off because we couldn’t afford to pay but even when we did this the bills didn’t go down,” he said. “I have had to get my parents to bail me out and I have seriously considered on more than one occasion closing the business down and starting again just to get out of it,” Steve said.
“The turnover of the business is only £65,000 a year but one year I paid £8000 in gas bills – that more than 10% of my takings – but there was absolutely nothing I could do. We were told we were on a contract and we couldn’t switch tariffs, even though I told them my business was going bankrupt. I’ve just been fobbed off for years.”
Steve approached the Citizens Advice Bureau for help but was told its service was not intended for businesses. He went to the Energy Ombudsman, Ofgem and Consumer Focus, but was told they could do nothing without a complaints reference number from BES – which BES would not give him.
Finally, Steve approached the Energy Advice Line for help and after five years of being trapped in a contract with BES, the service helped him switch to a new supplier – which takes effect on February 15. In the interim, the Energy Advice Line arranged for his payments to be lowered to reflect his usage.
Steve believes he has been overcharged by as much as £10,000 by BES over the past five years. The Energy Advice Line is liaising with BES on Steve’s behalf to try to get this money back.
“The Energy Advice Line has been fantastic – they have been the middleman and just to have someone else to help me deal with all this has been amazing,” Steve said.
“The Energy Advice Line has been able to speak to people I can’t get hold of, people who have deliberately given me the run-around all this time. Basically I’ve a knife in my back for the past five years and they’ve helped me get it out.”
The Energy Advice Line has urged business energy users to take the following steps to avoid finding themselves in the same position as Steve:
• Never agree to an energy contract with someone that cold-calls calls you. Always compare the tariff they offer you with the prices of other suppliers by using an impartial and independent price comparison service dedicated to businesses.
• Be vigilant around the time your fixed-term contract expires and remember to serve termination notice – you need to do this in writing if you wish to switch to another supplier. The Energy Advice Line holds the latest terms and conditions of every supplier and can advise businesses on what they need to do. The termination requirements of all suppliers are different so it is important to speak to an impartial and independent advisor for advice.
The Energy Advice Line is the UK’s leading independent price comparison and switching services exclusively for small and medium-sized businesses. The service enables firms to quickly and simply compare business energy and business gas prices, and to switch to the best available deal on the market.
Businesses can also prevent being caught unwittingly in expensive rollover contracts with their existing suppliers by signing up with the Energy Advice Line’s free renewal reminder service. For further information visit www.energyadviceline.org.uk
About Energy Advice Line
The Energy Advice Line, an impartial online business electricity and business gas price comparison service run by business energy experts for business energy customers, dedicated exclusively to the needs of small and medium-sized businesses in the UK. Realising that small and medium sized business electricity and gas consumers want product choice, EAL has developed an online price comparison and switching service exclusively dedicated to their needs. Visit http://www.energyadviceline.org.uk/ for more details.
Contact name: Julian Morgan
Energy Advice Line Limited,
1a Crimea Rd,
Phone: 0800 915 1800
This press release was distributed by ResponseSource Press Release Wire on behalf of LexisClick in the following categories: Business & Finance, Retail & Fashion, Manufacturing, Engineering & Energy, for more information visit https://pressreleasewire.responsesource.com/about.