Having issues with your energy or broadband provider? Here are some important regulations you should know about

by Maryam Khan

Is your complaint not being taken seriously? Is your heating system not working? Does the service you receive not match what was promised? Your telecommunication and energy providers are regulated and held accountable by government regulatory bodies, to ensure companies provide the highest standard of service and protect your interests.

There are more than 60 regulatory bodies in the UK that govern different industries. This article will focus on highlighting the key regulations that everyone should be aware of in the telecommunication and energy sector.

Telecommunication

The Office of Communications (Ofcom) is the official regulator for communication and telecommunication services such as broadband, home phone and mobile phone services. The regulatory body protects consumers and ensures satisfactory customer service, by holding companies to account.

Ofcom provides a guide to ensure you get the best deal before signing a contract with your supplier. This includes checking whether you are in or out of contract with your supplier. If you are still under a contract, then you don’t have anything to worry about. However, if you are out of the contract, then you should use Ofcom’s accredited comparison sites that provides information on securing the best deal. Lastly, being out of contract is often more expensive, and therefore you should request your current provider to match or beat other deals.

The introduction of automatic compensation scheme ensures that customers are automatically paid compensation if the service has been compromised. Compensation can be provided for delay in repairs, missed repairs, missed appointments and loss of service.

An update was released by Ofcom in March 2020 stating that providers were not obliged to provide automatic compensation during the pandemic, as the civil emergencies exception applied in the scheme. In these circumstances, the provider must relay clear reasons for their refusal to pay.    

Broadband

Every household has the right to a functioning broadband connection. If you have been mis-sold a service, you should directly notify Ofcom by completing this form.  Whilst Ofcom are not able to investigate the complaint, they do keep a record of consumer issues, to enable them to launch an investigation into a particular company depending on the volume of complaints.

In order to complain, however, you should explain the issue to your provider and ask for it to registered on your account. If the matter is unresolved, you can refer the complaint to an Alternative Dispute Resolution scheme such as the Ombudsman Services  or the Communications and Internet Services Authority.

If you are facing issues with your broadband, you may be entitled to compensation depending on the situation. Circumstances such as delayed repairs that require roads being dug up may result in compensation being awarded.

Leading internet service providers such as BE, BT, O2, Three and Tesco Mobile are signatories of the Voluntary Broadband Speed Code of Practice (CoP). Here, the signatories are obliged to provide open internet access products and have agreed to not use traffic management to limit their customers from using competitor services. Through the CoP, customers are given estimated broadband speeds, and if the speed at any time falls substantially below the estimation, then the service providers are obliged to resolve the issue.

Under the automatic compensation system discussed earlier, if a customer faces a loss of service, they are entitled to compensation. However, this only applies to faults that have not been caused by the customer themselves and have been ‘objectively defined and measured’. An example of situations that warrant compensation includes a landline or broadband not being fixed in a timely manner or a landline or broadband not running the day it was supposed to.

Termination charges might have to be paid if you wish to switch your provider before the end of the minimum contract period. You can only avoid termination charges if you were not getting the service you were promised. However, if you cancel your contract within 14 days during the ‘cooling-off’ period, you will not be charged.

Gas & Electricity

The Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem) is the official energy regulator that protects consumer rights. It ensures that energy suppliers are compliant with the relevant legal provisions. In the case of any breach, Ofgem can conduct an investigation and sanction the supplier in the form of fines.

It is crucial to note that no regulatory body can investigate a claim unless they have been informed of a violation. Therefore, it is essential for every consumer to be aware of their rights and to notify the Energy Ombudsman so they can assess the situation and proceed accordingly. If the issue is still unresolved, all complaints can be directed to the Energy Ombudsman, which is separate from Ofgem and other bodies.

Issues in billing, costs and payments 

If you are not yet on a working smart meter, to make sure you are not billed incorrectly, double-checking your bills is essential. If you get an unexpectedly high or low bill, you should take this up with your provider because there may be an issue with the meter readings entered on your account.   

In the event you have not received your bill, you should contact your supplier immediately. It should be noted, however, that customers cannot be back billed for energy used more than 12 months ago. If your energy provider attempts to back bill you beyond that time, then you must remind them that there are strict regulations to prohibit this,  you should raise a complaint if necessary and take it to the Energy Ombudsman if a resolution is not achieved. If a bill has been issued, on the other hand, and you fail to pay, then the suppliers can demand a payment for an unpaid bill and enforce the debt for a period of six years after the bill is issued.

Suppliers are bound to inform you about any price increases at least 30 days before. If you are not notified in time, you can file a complaint. This also depends on the type of tariff you are on. If you are on a fixed rate tariff, the supplier can only increase the price unless the government has increased the VAT. However, if you are on a tracker tariff where the price is variable, you do not need to be notified.

Ofgem has provided a guide to help customers understand their energy bills, which can be found here.

Issues in service

Noticed something faulty? You should contact and notify your supplier if you notice something wrong or if things aren’t working as usual such as your bill being unreasonably high. Your supplier is responsible for ensuring that both your gas and electricity meters work properly.

In addition, the selling of energy contracts is strictly regulated in the industry in order to protect consumers. Energy suppliers are required to give you all the necessary information to make an informed decision about contracting with the supplier. This includes being notified about any cancellation fees, total price, and payment methods. You should be aware of the 14 day period where you can cancel your contract without any consequences. If you have not been informed of this, you hold the right to cancel any time within 12 months without any penalties.

What do you do if your provider goes bankrupt? 

Ofgem has established a secure safety net process that reduces the risks and uncertainty consumers may face if their supplier goes bankrupt. It is imperative to be aware of your rights in situations like this. Ofgem ensures that your energy is not cut off until you have appointed a new supplier.

Once you are informed about your supplier being made bankrupt, you should take a meter reading to make sure you are not being billed incorrectly by your new supplier. While your new supplier honours previous credit balances, they will not honour previous fixed rate prices. As a result, your new contract might be more expensive, and you should request to be put on the cheapest one.

What can you do if your energy supplier has been switched by mistake?

You should immediately contact either of the suppliers as they are responsible for correcting the mistake. The suppliers are obliged to provide an explanation of how they will fix the situation in writing within five working days of contacting them. Furthermore, within twenty working days, you should be given a written notice that confirms you have been switched back to your normal supplier.

Cancellation and exit fees

If you decide to end a contract before the fixed term date, then you will have to pay an exit fee. However, you have a right to end the contract without paying an exit fee if you are in the last 49 days of the term.

After reading this article if you have any other concerns, or are facing any of the issues discussed above, your first step should be to complain to your supplier so that they can directly fix the situation without involving any third parties. However, if the issue remains unresolved within eight weeks, you can contact the relevant Ombudsman who are free to use.

This article is intended for guidance only and must not be relied upon for specific advice.

 

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