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Battling Unfair Practices

Diane Hall


Problem with making complaints at big companies.

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I seem to have been fighting everyone and their dog for the last few months. Certain bodies and organisations have, I feel, acted unfairly and thrown their weight around, and I’ve taken them to task for it (because that’s how I roll).

I don’t feel like a consumer champion or caped crusader; it’s actually been a highly frustrating and incredibly time-consuming process. I’ve lost the equivalent of three working days in telephone calls, letters and emails, as I followed various bodies’ complaints/appeals processes. Most of this effort was unnecessary, if only the companies in question had simply looked at my query/complaint with logic.

My most recent battle has been with my energy supplier. I’d love to be petty and tell you which one it was, but as I’m in the latter stages of the complaints process, I don’t want to jinx anything. I’ll tell you the story, though…

Last summer, our electricity meter began to give weird readings. It would get to 26000kwh then drop a couple of thousand digits before continuing again on its course. Again, it would reach 26,000 and it would fall back. It wasn’t an issue with the digital display—I had no idea why it was doing this.

After a few cycles of this, we informed the supplier that something was wrong with the electricity meter—this was June 2022. 

Now, according to the Energy Ombudsman’s website, by law, the supplier has 5 working days to investigate this fault. Ours didn’t do zilch. We just received an email saying ‘Thanks for letting us know there’s a problem’.


A little time passed and, in a bid to find out what was being done about the meter (and stream of subsequent estimated bills), I called the supplier for an update. Lots of times. 

Three appointments were booked to upgrade my system to a smart meter. The first two were cancelled by the meter installation company; by the time the problem was fixed and I had a smart meter sitting on my worktop, it was the end of March 2023.

Now, that’s shoddy enough service to start with. Had I not chased the supplier for a solution to my broken meter, would the upgrade to a smart meter ever have happened? 

Who knows?

On Easter Monday 2023, I received my monthly energy bill. The supplier, in its infinite wisdom, had decided that its own estimated readings during the time the meter was broken were too unreliable to rely on. They decided to pile on an extra 3500kwh, which added almost £1,400 to my bill.


Woman making a complaint.

That’s when the fun really began. Endless phone calls to have my bill looked at by a human, but to no avail. The supplier claimed that the final meter reading given by the engineer couldn’t be used or applied, and they couldn’t be sure of when the meter stopped recording accurate readings. 

I didn’t disagree with this. I’m not an imbecile.

What I did disagree with was that the last four years of kwh readings showed that I wouldn’t have used that much electricity. Even during lockdown, when we were all at home and the energy price rises hadn’t yet taught us to freeze under a blanket for hours at a time, my household’s usage didn’t come anywhere near what my supplier was suggesting. Their miscalculation was not even by a slim margin…their claim was way off.

All I wanted someone to do within my supplier’s billing team was sit down with the breakdown of my last four years’ worth of bills (information that I’d taken the time and trouble to compile). It was glaringly obvious that their claim was rubbish when faced with this data.

However, despite every operator I spoke to agreeing with me that the magical figure their superiors wanted to charge me was ludicrous, my energy supplier did nothing. They insisted I had to pay the extra £1,400—just in case. They suggested that, if my next 12 months’ worth of bills via my smart meter showed I hadn’t used that level of electricity, they would refund me this overpayment.

Over my dead body, mate.

I refused. They had no other data to work with than my past consumption, which was suddenly not reliable enough (four years’ worth? Really?). My argument was, where was their proof that it wasn’t reliable? When did they suggest I used these additional 3500kwh when every bill they’d ever produced for me (estimated or otherwise) showed I hadn’t? I wasn’t going to pay forward £1,400 just on their say-so, without any facts, reasoning or evidence to back it up. In my mind, if they could be allowed to make up such absurd claims without proof, what would stop them saying their suggestion was indeed correct in a year’s time, in a bid to keep my money?

They’d simply picked a number out of the sky (which, interestingly, was one digit different to the engineer’s last reading—an incorrect input, maybe, that they just decided to cling to?). 

Where was my protection as the consumer?

My internal complaint with the energy supplier reached deadlock, even though I received no evidence from them that I may have used these extra kwhs. I’d still paid my estimated bills throughout the whole nine months in which we knew the meter was faulty—I didn’t query any of them. And had the supplier fixed the broken meter within 5 days of the fault being reported, like they should have done, this situation wouldn’t have got so out of hand.

I took my deadlock letter to the Energy Ombudsman, together with all the evidence I’d organised for my supplier. Within two days, my supplier got in touch to say they would wipe the extra units and provide a new bill based on my average usage. 

Wasn’t that what I’d asked for at the start?!

They also proposed adding a goodwill gesture to the value of £75 to my account, to acknowledge my inconvenience. Too right.

It’s such a shame that this issue reached the ombudsman, when it was clear to anyone looking at the facts available that the supplier’s claim was groundless. I’m pleased that I was proved to be correct; however, what if there was no independent body to assess both sides of a complaint? Since this happened, I’ve read so many occasions on which the same supplier had fabricated readings in their favour. I’m someone who won’t rest if I think I’m right, but not everyone is the same. Some people may not want the hassle and may simply pay up, others may not know how to progress their complaint even if they believe they’re in the right. It’s quite unsettling that the supplier thought they could just insist I owed them money without a scrap of proof. It’s not as if they need the funds…

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