Cost of living crisis
We are campaigning for local and national changes in response to the cost of living crisis.
Part of our campaigns work on the cost of living crisis is to share information around energy bills as well as providing energy advice and more.
Energy costs information - Back billing
What is back-billing?
- Back-billing happens when an energy company hasn’t correctly billed you for energy use and then sends a ‘catch-up’ bill to recover the unpaid amount.
- However, an energy company cannot seek payment for energy used over 12 months ago if you haven’t been billed correctly for it, under back-billing rules.
A recent Uswitch survey found that energy companies are among the worst when it comes to billing their customers correctly.
Often mistakes are made that result in large bills.
In 2017 data from Citizens Advice revealed that the typical back bill was as high as £1,160 and in extreme cases as much as £10,000.
What to do if you get a back-dated bill for more than 12 months ago
First, contact your energy supplier. Let them know that you are protected by the back-billing rules and should only be charged for 1 year of energy usage.
If they still try to charge you for the full amount, make a complaint with the supplier, following their complaints handling procedure.
- You can use this example letter to help you https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/template-letters/letters/energy/complain-to-a-supplier-about-back-billing/
If unsuccessful, you should contact Citizens Advice’s Consumer Helpline on 08454 04 05 06 to receive further advice.
Finally, you should contact the Energy Ombudsman for assistance in making a formal complaint. They are an independent body that can help with back-billing disputes.
What to do if you can’t afford to pay
If you’ve received a back bill with charges dated within the last 12 months, or one which is accurate for other reasons, and you can’t afford to pay, you should contact your energy supplier as soon as possible and ask them to set up a payment plan.
Suppliers will often spread the bill over a similar length that the debt built up. For example, if the bill covers a six month period that you didn’t receive a bill for, you should be able to spread the repayments over six months.
How to avoid receiving a back bill
The best way to prevent a back bill is to make sure the bills you receive are accurate and not based on estimates.
To do this, you need to provide regular meter readings to your energy supplier.
You should also:
- Make sure to contact your energy suppliers when you move into a property and before you move out.
- Make contact with your new supplier to create a new account to make sure you are not charged for the energy use of the previous tenant.
- Contact your energy supplier if you think there is a problem with a faulty gas or electricity meter.
- Check the identifying information on your bill is correct, including name, address, and meter ID and report any errors right away.
When the back-billing rules doesn’t apply
In some circumstances, you will still have to pay your back-dated bill.
The back-billing code doesn’t apply to you if:
You’ve deliberately avoided paying your bills, making no contact with the supplier to arrange payment.
- You moved into a new property and made no attempt to contact the energy supplier to arrange a new contract.
- You haven’t provided meter readings when asked or responded to requests for other meter details.
- The energy supplier has gone out of business.
Further information about back-billing
The background of the back-billing principle
The back-billing principle was introduced by Ofgem in 2018. They decided that it was unfair for suppliers to charge for energy billed incorrectly over 12 months ago and that suppliers must include back-billing rules in their terms and conditions.
Why does back-billing happen?
Back-billing commonly happens when an energy company provides bills based on an estimate rather than up-to-date meter readings.
Over time, long-term underpayment can occur, and once a meter reading is provided, it may result in a back-dated bill.
Other reasons you might receive a back bill can include:
Your energy supplier has an incorrect meter ID on your account; this could result in you paying for someone else’s energy.
- Simple mistakes like accidentally cancelling a direct debit which can cause energy charges to build up over several months before being noticed.
- A faulty gas or electric meter, this can result in drastic unexplained changes to bills.
- You have requested bills from your supplier but never received them.
- Incorrect bills were sent to you that were not corrected by the company, despite requests.
Despite this, some energy companies continue to send bills to former and current customers to recoup their own internal billing errors.
If you’re having issues with your energy bills or supplier, you can get more advice from the Citizens Advice consumer helpline by calling 0808 223 1133.