Jac Roper: A recent Ofgem review concluded more businesses would benefit from access to dispute resolution through the Energy Ombudsman

Johnny Srikrishna, who owns Ashdene Service Station (Shell/Budgens) on the A21 near Etchingham in East Sussex, has a considerable bone to pick with YU Energy.

All had started well on  April 1 2023, then YU Energy changed the tariff on the August invoice from the agreed contracted rate of 36.203p/day kWh and 24.406p/night kWh and 307.48p/day standing charge to 40.547p/day kWh and 28.454p/night kWh, and 350.52p/day standing charge.

And he told us: “We recently were subject to extraordinary levels of poor and costly customer service from our energy provider YU Energy.

“We have tried to work through the complaints process with our broker, Costgard, and through the Ombudsman.

“We were unable to utilise the Ombudsman because the restrictions around the size of the business in terms of turnover and number of employees mean we are out of their remit.”

Johnny has also written to Huw Merriman, MP for Bexhill and Battle, saying that he understands that the Ombudsman will be expanding its remit and asking when this might happen.

At present only businesses with a non-domestic energy contract that meet the definition of a relevant consumer, referred to by Ofgem as microbusinesses, can access the Energy Ombudsman to acquire dispute resolution assistance between them and their energy supplier.

There was an Ofgem review recently that concluded more businesses would benefit from access to dispute resolution through the Energy Ombudsman. The Ombudsman provides a free and impartial service to consumers who have raised an issue with their supplier which could not be satisfied.

The consultation sets out proposals to:

  • introduce a new small business definition into the 2008 Order
  • expand access to redress to businesses with up to 50 employees AND
  • an annual turnover of £6.5 million or a balance sheet total of £5 million OR
  • an annual electricity consumption level of 500,000kWh electricity OR
  • an annual gas consumption level of 500,000 kWh gas

Introducing a new threshold to access and seek redress through the Energy Ombudsman to include small businesses would encompass a further 4% of the UK business population, combined with microbusinesses. This would bring the total percentage of businesses who can seek redress to 99%, which represents at least an additional 200,000 businesses in the UK. 

In his letter to his MP Johnny summarised the situation as follows: “Following some initial difficulty with our new provider we found that we were paying a higher rate than the original contract we signed.

“We investigated this and found that YU Energy had switched us to a non smart meter rate because they claimed an engineer had attended but not been allowed to install a smart meter. No evidence of the booking having been made has been provided.” Contractors are required to sign in at the site, says Johnny.

“Another booking was made and we received correspondence and written confirmation of the booking. A complaint was also made, but YU Energy would only backdate the billing to November and not July when we signed up with them. They also would not discuss this further and referred us to the Ombudsman which we much later on discovered would not be able to hear our complaint.

“We paid what we thought was the remainder of the outstanding amount however YU Energy had not and still has not found £6,907.

“While we asked this to be investigated and waited for the response, YU Energy said they would put us on a prepayment meter, within a day of receiving this they switched us to the prepayment meter – the timing was extremely hostile being a Friday at circa 4pm. When we made prepayments only 60% would be allocated. It’s fortunate that we had a backup generator as the timing and nature of top up would have left any other business without power for over a weekend. We were able to get back on the normal tariff after clearing the ‘debt’ and providing a 10K security deposit.

“To date we have: No evidence of the initial booking for the smart meter. No clue where the £6,907 that we paid has gone.”

I contacted YU Energy, forwarding Johnny’s email containing its quite comprehensive details, blow-by-blow, plus photos of payments and the meter in question.

A representative of the company said: “Many of our contracts require the installation of a smart meter to secure the quoted rates, as we offer lower rates to customers with a smart meter fitted. We ensure this is clearly stated in our terms and conditions, and that it is communicated to the customer at the time of sale.

“Unfortunately, Mr Srikrishna refused his initial smart meter installation, breaking the terms and conditions of his contract. After multiple attempts to rearrange the installation, and as per these terms and conditions, our Standard Default Tariff was applied.

The customer was offered appointments in September and October, both of which were refused. When he re-engaged with us to book his installation (November 29 2023), we changed his tariff back to his original tariff. These rates were effective immediately, despite the installation being booked in for January 24 2024, to accommodate Mr Srikrishna’s request for an out-of-hours appointment.

Following this, we received a payment of £6,124.93 which was allocated to the customer’s meter the same day. However, this still left an outstanding balance on the customer’s account of £6,907.57, meaning the meter was switched to Pay as You Go mode, as stated in our contract terms and conditions.

“After receiving the outstanding debt of £6,907.57 from Mr Srikrishna, and a security deposit, we were able to switch the meter back to Credit mode. The decision to move the customer onto a Pay as You Go Tariff was a result of a delay in payment, and at no point did we disconnect the meter. The customer was informed in advance of this switch happening, and provided with instructions on how to top-up.

“We believe we acted in accordance with our terms and conditions and followed all the correct procedures in this case.”

When I sent this on to Johnny, he responded that it was “most definitely incorrect”. He added: “They’ve changed their story. From saying we rejected the original visit to we declined offers September/October.

“To start with, we have no details of the original visit where they argue the engineer was turned away being arranged, no letter, no email! As far as we are concerned if someone did turn up and said they were going to turn our power off whoever was on duty acted properly.

“They are here in their response for the first time claiming that we were offered dates in the interim. This has never been mentioned before. I will provide their response to our complaint which never mentions these claimed interim dates either.” (He did provide Forecourt Trader with evidence.)

He also said: “When we identified the issue of the different rates for the energy we arranged for the install, a letter was provided for the meeting which we had never been evidenced.

“When we paid the £6,124.93 we queried other payments that had been to ensure we were applied. Instead of answering our question, they instead proceeded to take the absence of payment as us being delinquent and then in a level of efficiency we got a number of letters telling us we would be put on a prepayment meter and then within a day of us querying what was going on as we were still waiting for our misapplied payments. We were abruptly cut off at 4pm on a Friday and stuck on the prepayment meter.

“Apparently they received and have allocated the £6,124.93? which they couldn’t find?”

You can email your queries, news and views to Jac@roper-biz.co.uk or call 0208 8502 9775.