Energy customers hit with backdated catch-up bills despite ban

A domestic household electricity meter. Photo: Nick Ansell/PA Wire/PA Images
A domestic household electricity meter. Photo: Nick Ansell/PA Wire/PA Images

Energy customers are being hit with backdated “catch-up” bills by their providers.

The BBC reported that figures from the Energy Ombudsman show it resolved 2,539 complaints about back-billing, where energy suppliers decide their customers haven’t been paying enough and retroactively increase past bills, in 2019.

They are typically issued when customers haven’t had regular meter readings, if a firm decides the estimated charges were actually too low.

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These kinds of “catch-up” bills were banned by energy regulator Ofgem more than a year ago to prevent customers being left in debt after receiving unexpected large bills.

However, despite the ban, complaints have increased almost a third, from 1,903 in 2018. And more of these complaints were upheld.

Citizens Advice said it helped 2,691 people in England and Wales with catch-up bills in the year to November 2019.

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Shell Energy customer Clare Crisp told BBC News she received an email from in November where her direct debit to the company had nearly doubled from £72 to £130 per month.

As it turns out, the firm had cancelled her previous five-and-a-half years worth of electricity bills, and re-billed her with higher amounts – tacking on an extra cost of £512.

Shell Energy told the BBC that once it was notified of the mistake, Crisp’s account was refunded and her direct debit was amended.

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It said all of its customer accounts were monitored by "dedicated teams".

Citizens Advice research suggests the average backdated bill is about £1,160. However, in some cases, they have exceeded £10,000.

While energy firms are still trying to “get to grips” with the new rules, "it's important to point out that any decision to uphold a back-billing complaint may or may not be due to a failure on the energy supplier's part to apply the new rules correctly,” a spokesperson for the Ombudsman told the BBC.

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