Supplier Codes of Practice
As an electricity or gas consumer, you are protected by minimum standards that your energy supplier must follow. These minimum standards are set by the Utility Regulator in Codes of Practice.
These codes are designed to ensure that gas and electricity consumers, and in particular those that may be in vulnerable circumstances, are protected in their dealings with their electricity or natural gas supplier.
Each supplier must guarantee the minimum standards set out in the Utility Regulator Codes of Practice and include them in their own Codes of Practice.
Below are four key Codes of Practice covering the following:
- Code of Practice on Payment of Bills
- Code of Practice on Provision of Services for persons who are of Pensionable Age or Disabled or Chronically Sick
- Code of Practice on Services for Prepayment Meter Customers
- Code of Practice on Complaints Handling Procedure
1. Code of Practice on Payment of Bills (for domestic consumers)
This code provides you with protection if you are struggling to pay your gas or electricity bills or if you get into debt with your gas or electricity supplier.
If you are struggling to pay your electricity or gas bills:
- If you are worried about your ability to pay your gas or electricity bill, you should contact your supplier. Your supplier is required to work with you to help you avoid getting into debt or building up a large amount of debt with them. They can support you such as through setting up a suitable payment plan and/or directing you to organisations that can help you with debt issues.
- Your supplier must work with advice-giving organisations and charities that help people who are at risk of going into debt or are having difficulty paying bills. Your supplier will be able to provide you with contact details of these charities and advice-giving organisations if you need their assistance.
- A change in circumstances such as redundancy or illness might affect your ability to pay your gas or electricity bills. You should notify your supplier if this affects you as they must take into account your individual circumstances and can help you manage your payments.
- Using energy more efficiently can help you reduce your bills. Your supplier can provide you with energy efficiency advice.
If you have debt with your energy supplier:
- If you already have a debt with your gas or electricity supplier, they are required to work with you to set up a repayment arrangement that is suitable to your personal circumstances and your ability to pay.
- You can choose the method used to pay back your debt, such as Direct Debit, cash or prepayment meter
- You will not be expected to pay off all your debt in a single transaction, unless you would like to.
- If you are having difficulty in meeting the payments for your debt repayment plan, contact your supplier and they will work with you to develop a new repayment plan that is suitable for your needs. If you feel this has not been done or that the repayment plan they set up is not suitable you can go back to your supplier and ask them to review the payment plan again or you can seek help from the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland (CCNI).
- If you pay monthly or bi-monthly and are finding it hard to pay your bills, your supplier can install a prepayment meter, this can make it easier for you to monitor your energy usage. (please see the Code of Practice on Prepayment Meters for more information)
- If you have a prepayment meter and have debt with your supplier, your supplier must contact you to agree the percentage of each of your top-ups they will use to pay off the debt you owe them. The percentage will be based on your ability to pay and cannot be more than 40% of your top-up (unless you specifically want this and request in writing for a higher percentage to apply). So, for example, if you top up £20, your supplier cannot take more than £8 from this to pay off any debt you have with them.
If you are worried about your supplier disconnecting your energy supply:
- Disconnection is always the last resort, and you will not be disconnected if you are engaging with your supplier and agree a repayment plan.
- For gas customers, before your supplier can disconnect you for unpaid debt, they first must contact you to provide you with the option to either: 1. Pay off your debt in full; 2. Start a repayment plan; or 3. Agree to have a prepayment meter installed. If you agree to any of these three options your supplier cannot disconnect your gas supply.
- If you are classified as vulnerable (you are of pensionable age, disabled, chronically sick or live with someone who is) your supplier cannot disconnect your electricity or gas supply between 1 October – 31 March. If your supplier disconnects you over this period, they must reconnect you within 24 hours (on working days) and not charge you for this.
- If you have an unresolved complaint or dispute in process with your supplier, they cannot disconnect you for unpaid debt.
- If your electricity or gas is disconnected by your supplier they must provide you with the information on how you can reconnect your supply at a later date and the amount this would cost.
2. Code of Practice on Provision of Services for persons who are of Pensionable Age or Disabled or Chronically Sick (for domestic consumers)
This code provides you with protection if you are of pensionable age, disabled or chronically sick.
If you are of pensionable age, disabled or chronically sick you can get additional help from your electricity or gas supplier:
- Suppliers must be able to provide you with communications and information in a format to suit your needs, for example if you have any difficulty with your eyesight or hearing.
- If you cannot read your electricity or gas meter (and you have no one else in your house who can) you can ask your supplier to read your meter for you (at least four times every year).
- If you are struggling to access your meter, your supplier may also be able to move your meter to a more accessible location. This is provided free of charge.
- If anyone working for your supplier visits your house you can request that they provide identification in a means that suits you e.g. in braille, large font etc.
- If you are worried about bogus callers you can ask your supplier to be part of their password scheme. In this you provide your supplier with a password that they will use each time one of their employees call you (either on the phone or in person), so that you can identify they are who they say they are.
- If you are struggling to understand or manage your gas or electricity bills and have someone who could help you, you can ask your supplier to send your bills to this person. This will not cost you anything and you can still receive a copy of each bill at the same time.
- If you have gas and you either live alone or the rest of your household is of pensionable age, disabled or chronically ill, you can ask your suppler to arrange a free annual gas safety inspection of your gas appliances.
If you are of pensionable age, disabled or chronically sick and live alone or the rest of your household falls under this category (or are under 18) your electricity or gas supplier cannot disconnect your supply over winter (1 October to 31 March).
If you are of pensionable age, disabled or chronically sick you can register with your electricity and gas supplier, to ensure your supplier knows your specific needs or requirements and can provide you with information on the services available to you.
For the full Code of Practice on Provision of Services for persons who are of pensionable age, disabled or chronically sick click here.
3. Code of Practice on Services for Prepayment Meter Customers (for domestic consumers)
This code provides you with protection if you have or are going to install a prepayment meter for your electricity and/or gas supply.
Your supplier is required to make the process of having a prepayment meter as easy as possible. Therefore, if you are unclear about any aspect of the prepayment meter you can contact your supplier for them to explain any queries you may have.
This can include:
- What a prepayment meter is;
- The tariffs and charges for using a prepayment meter;
- How to use and operate the prepayment meter;
- How and where payments to the account can be made;
- If alternative payment methods are available;
- The policy of refunding credit balances;
- Emergency credit - how much it is and how it works;
- Where to buy credit for your prepayment meter;
- If it is possible to provide operating instructions in a language other than English or another format such as Braille;
- If your prepayment meter is not working properly and you need it fixed;
- If you are having trouble physically using the prepayment meter or accessing top-up facilities, your supplier can make an alternative arrangement for payment;
If you are unhappy with any aspect of your prepayment meter or the supplier’s service you can make a complaint (see the complaints code for more information on this).
Is a prepayment meter suitable for me?
- Prepayment meters are not suitable for everyone as you need to be able to use the prepayment meter technology and have easy access to a shop that sells prepayment meter top-ups. Your supplier should explain this to you so before installing a prepayment meter so you can decide if a prepayment meter would be suitable for you.
- If you would like a prepayment meter but your supplier has said that they think a prepayment meter may not be suitable for you, you can ask your supplier if they can provide assistance, as sometimes suppliers can provide special adaptors or controls or move your prepayment meter to make it suitable for your needs.
- Electricity prepayment meters are not suitable if there is someone in the household who is on a life support system or who relies on critical care medical equipment. Electricity prepayment meters will not be installed in these households.
If you have a prepayment meter to help manage debt
- If you are in debt, a prepayment meter could help you in paying back your debt. However, a supplier cannot install a prepayment meter without your agreement, unless it is a last resort in recovering your debt to avoid your supply being disconnected.
- Before your supplier installs a prepayment meter in your home for debt reasons, they must clearly explain to you the terms and conditions of the repayment arrangement, the amount that will be taken from each top-up to pay off your debt (which can be no more than 40%) and what you can do if you are having difficulty in maintaining your debt repayments.
- You can ask your supplier for information on your debt at any time. This can include the amount of debt you have, the likely length of time it will take you to repay your debt and how your supplier has calculated how you will pay your debt.
If you are in debt, you have a number of further protections which can be found in the Code of Practice on Payment of Bills.
Considerations for prepayment meter customers:
If you already have or choose to install a prepayment meter you should note:
- If you change supplier your options for buying credit for your meter may change;
- You may have additional charges for using a prepayment meter, your supplier should make you aware of any;
- If you lose your top-up card your supplier may charge you to replace the card;
- In certain circumstances your meter may need to be removed or reset. Your supplier will provide you with information on how this is done, how long it will take and if there are any other conditions. If you have any credit left on your meter before it is reset or removed you can ask your supplier how you obtain a refund for your remaining credit;
- If your supplier changes your tariff (either increases or decreases your unit rate) they must notify you at least 21 days in advance of the rate changing;
- Sometimes prepayment meters will require you to enter a change of rate code when a tariff changes, if you have to do this your supplier will let you know (at least 7 days before the tariff rate changes) and explain the process you have to follow.
For the full Code of Practice on Services for Prepayment Meter Customers click here.
4. Code of Practice on Complaints Handling Procedure (for both businesses and domestic consumers)
This code ensures your electricity and gas supplier have a free and fair complaints process which you can easily access to make a complaint if you are dissatisfied by any service they have provided.
How do I make a complaint?
- Each electricity and gas supplier has a Code of Practice on their complaints handling procedure (available on their website or will provide you a copy if you ask). This document will give you the information you will need to make a complaint to the supplier including contact details, the process for making a complaint and timeline that the supplier will aim to resolve your complaint by.
- You can make a complaint to your supplier in a format that suits you. This can be via a letter, email, phone call or in person.
- If you are of pensionable age, disabled, chronically sick or have specific needs (such as language barrier) you can have someone make a complaint on your behalf.
What can I expect if I make a complaint?
- If you make a complaint with your supplier they must respond to you within five working days. This will either be an acknowledgement of you complaint, a request for more information to help them review your complaint or an answer to your complaint.
- Once your supplier has investigated your complaint they will get back to you with their findings. If they uphold your complaint (in their investigation of your complaint they found they had not delivered an appropriate level of service to you) they will offer one or more of the following remedies:
1. An apology
2. An explanation
3. Appropriate remedial action (to fix the issue)
4. Compensation (in some instances)
- In total it should take no more than three months to process and resolve any complaint.
What if I am not happy with the outcome of my complaint?
- If you are unhappy with how your complaint is being handled by your supplier or your issue is still unresolved after following your supplier’s complaints procedures, you can go to the Consumer Council (CCNI) who will look into the issue on your behalf for free.
Your energy supplier is legally required to meet these minimum requirements, and if you as their customer find they have not meet one or more of these minimum standards you can issue a complaint with your supplier; and if they do not resolve the issue, you can contact the Consumer Council NI for help with your complaint.
Visit this page for more information on all Codes of Practice