Co-op Energy was my supplier for gas and electricity from 2014 to 2016. Although I’m no longer a customer, I’ve been paying £100 a month since last May to reduce arrears of more than £2,000 caused by its failure to debit or bill my account. I now wonder whether I do, in fact, have to pay this under the back-billing rule.
When I signed up to Co-op in 2014 I paid £160.84 a month via direct debit. In April 2015 it stopped debiting my account. I pointed this out, but it did not start taking payments for another five months.
In April 2016 it again stopped taking the direct debit and I was told the issue would soon be resolved, but nothing came of it. During this time I never had a bill or statement.
I did receive a couple of emails headed “Your statement is now available to view online”, but because of its failed attempts to introduce a new system, I was unable to register for online access.
I decided to change supplier, thinking this would force it to address the issue as any arrears would need to be cleared before it would allow a transfer. But it did let me go without issue in July 2016.
In March last year I was notified that I was £4,352.47 in arrears for a period ending July 2016. A week later I received another letter now stating I was £2,165.45 in arrears for the period ending 6 July 2016. A third letter, bearing the same date, told me I was in arrears by £2,307.90 but for a period ending 27 July.
Eventually, I agreed that the arrears should be set at £2,165.45.
I now question whether I should be liable for these arrears since I was never billed for the period and it waited more than 17 months before contacting me.
TW, St Dogmaels, Cardigan
You are correct. Under rules enforced by the utilities regulator Ofgem, customers are not liable for unbilled energy used more than 12 months ago, and energy companies are obliged to make this clear in their terms and conditions.
It is scandalous that Co-op Energy flouted this rule when its own incompetence caused the arrears.
In 2016 it was obliged by Ofgem to pay £1.8m in compensation to about 260,000 customers after a new IT system caused a billing fiasco. Customers were, like you, unable to check their accounts online, bills weren’t sent and direct debits were erroneously stopped.
Ofgem praised the company at the time for taking responsibility for the issue. Either Co-op has a short memory or it hopes its customers have if it’s now devolving that responsibility on to you.
It’s dispiriting that it only admitted the back-billing rule does apply in your case when I pointed it out.
A week after I called the press office, it decided to write off the arrears, refund the £800 you’ve repaid and add £150 in goodwill. “Having now been able to review the account fully, we agree some of the issues in the past should be covered by the back-billing code,” it says.
The fact is, all the issues were covered. The worry is how many other customers could be paying off debts they’re not liable for.
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