Utility Regulator's back billing decision welcomed by the Consumer Council

29 September 2020

The Consumer Council has welcomed new rules designed by the Utility Regulator to limit the length of time electricity and gas companies can back bill domestic and microbusiness consumers.

Under the new rules, which go live on 1 October 2020, energy companies may only back date consumers 13 months for outstanding amounts where there has been a supplier fault in calculating the correct amount the consumer has to pay. This is often caused when a meter is not read and an estimate is used. Currently, suppliers can go back up to six years and request payment to settle outstanding amounts for previous energy use.

Michael Legg, Head of Energy Policy at The Consumer Council, said: “We welcome the new rules from the Utility Regulator which go live on 1 October. Back billing can result in a surprise bill for consumers, creating energy debt and financial hardship. It is important that unnecessary debt is avoided and better managed. The new rules implemented by the Utility Regulator is good news for consumers as it will help reduce back billing. The new limit is timely with the negative effects of COVID-19 on household income.

“Suppliers must ensure they receive accurate meter readings throughout the year rather than bills being based on estimated readings. We would also encourage consumers to play their part by submitting their own meter readings, allowing access for meter readings or filling in the self-complete cards left by NIE Networks and gas suppliers. If you need help with how to read your meter, contact your supplier. You should also regularly check your energy bills. If something does not look right, contact your supplier so they can look into the matter.”

Jenny Pyper, Chief Executive of the Utility Regulator, said:  “Protecting consumers is always at the core of the Utility Regulator’s work. Our decision to limit electricity and gas back billing for domestic and microbusiness customers to 13 months, aims to ensure that consumers are treated fairly, providing added protection. This has been a comprehensive project, involving engagement with suppliers and key stakeholders to fully understand the extent of back billing in Northern Ireland and how it affects consumers and microbusinesses. I would encourage all energy customers to regularly submit meter reading to their suppliers to ensure bills can be as accurate as possible.”

The Consumer Council will continue to support consumers with back billing complaints. If you require help or assistance visit www.consumercouncil.org.uk or call 0800 121 6022.  

Notes:

1. Exceptions to the 13 month limit which include:

  • Back bills issued before 1st October 2020;
  • When the supplier has been unable to bill for any unpaid energy due to unlawful activity (e.g. meter tampering);
  • When a supplier has been unable to get an actual read despite using all reasonable efforts.

2. This applies to both domestic and micro business consumers using any payment type. Micro businesses are those businesses that use less than 50,000 units (kWh) of electricity per year or less than 72,300 units (kWh) of gas per year.