Gas and electricity Updated:
Paying for energy will undoubtedly be at the forefront of a lot of people's minds at the moment, but how you pay it won't normally take up quite so much thought. Well, it could be time to give it some attention, as it was revealed earlier this week that around 1.5 million gas pre-payment meters are faulty – meaning those customers could have been overcharged.
Energy suppliers are working hard to resolve the issue, says Energy UK, and will contact those customers who've been affected. A full refund will be given and the meter will be fixed, and it's hoped that everyone will have had their issues resolved in the next few months.
"Suppliers are working hard to roll out a solution for an issue that has affected some pre-payment gas meters," said Angela Knight, chief executive of Energy UK. "The meters were manufactured with a problem where they over-collected from customers. However, the companies know who is affected and will be getting in touch directly to put the meters right and refund any money owed.
"The suppliers and the wider industry are all very sorry this problem has occurred but are already getting in contact with customers. Customers do not need to do anything – their supplier will get in touch but, if they are concerned, they just need to contact their energy company who will be able to help."
However, despite refunds being on the way, the news that so many customers have been overcharged in the first place won't be so welcome. Many of those who use pre-payment meters are financially struggling, so finding out that they had to pay more than necessary – particularly in the run-up to Christmas – won't go down too well.
Mark Todd, of energyhelpline.com, commented on the announcement: "This mistake is likely to hit the poorest in society disproportionately hard. Many prepayment customers suffer fuel poverty and are forced by high prices to huddle in cold homes, often suffering illness as a result. Now we hear that some of them could have been overcharged as much as £110."
The fear that many have fallen ill as a result of cold homes has been confirmed by research from Saga, which found that 11% of over-50s surveyed feel their health has been affected by living in a cold house. It's a worrying statistic, and made worse with the finding that 4% will need to reduce their spending on food in order to cover the cost of energy. Some will even spend time in a public venue in order to keep warm this winter, while 53% worry about the cost of heating their home – and with energy prices being higher than they were a year ago, this could all become an increasing problem.
"These latest figures show just how far people will have to go to cope with the increasing cost of heating their homes," said Saga's Lisa Harris. "In this day and age people should not have to make the choice between eating well or heating their homes. In fact for many older people they feel this is directly affecting their health… This demonstrates the harsh personal reality of our escalating fuel costs."
Unfortunately, it doesn't look as though those costs are going to reduce, and consumers are getting fed up. "Of course, this isn't the only disappointment many Britons face from their energy companies," added Mark Todd. "Wholesale prices have dropped, but energy prices are at an all-time high and customer service problems seem to be deepening. Following this latest faux pas, consumer confidence in energy suppliers will have dipped even lower.
"Too many people think they cannot switch and so become trapped with their current supplier. Our message to Britons this winter is don't shiver in silence – by comparing prices and switching to a cheap deal, most people can turn up the heat and make savings, too."
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