Back-billing could be a gas or electric shock

An unexpected demand for energy underpayments can be a nightmare, but what are your rights?

An out-of-the-blue energy bill for hundreds or thousands of pounds can land on your doorstep with a sickening and shocking thud. But just because your energy supplier sends you a charge for what it says are past underpayments, do you actually have to pay?

It happened to Independent columnist Terence Blacker last week. He was suddenly confronted with a confusing demand for almost £6,000 by his energy firm, E.ON. After he wrote about it in the paper the company stepped in to sort things out.

"It was all a terrible mistake, apparently, Mr Blacker said. "'Human error' was the mantra of the moment."

He was able to cut the back-bill to less than a tenth of the original amount, but said: "It's worrying that vulnerable people may get similar demands and not know what to do."

That's exactly what happened to the parents of Stewart Graham. The Birmingham couple in their mid-70s had a surprise demand for £1,200 from EDF which left them fearful of turning on their heating because of the cost.

We passed on the problem to EDF and, to its credit, the supplier appears to be sorting things out for the couple to investigate whether the surprise bill is due to a faulty meter.

"We will, of course reimburse the customer without delay if the test does reveal a fault and we will not send any bills to the couple until the results are confirmed," EDF said.

But what if you haven't got the power of the press to help? The Citizens Advice chief executive, Gillian Guy, said: "It's a real shock – and very confusing - if you get a big energy bill out of the blue saying you owe money for gas and electricity when you've regularly been paying bills. This can happen if your bills have been based on estimated usage or if the energy company has made a mistake."

But it seems to be happening more and more, she warned.

"Our consumer service has handled more than 2,000 problems with back-billing since April, making it the fourth-biggest energy issue dealt with by the consumer service."

The rule about back-billing is simple: you are obliged to pay for energy you have used but suppliers must follow certain rules about how far back they can bill you.

In short, they are not allowed to charge you for energy used more than 12 months ago if "the supplier was at fault for not having sent a bill to the customer". But the time limit only applies if you have made efforts to contact your supplier or provide them with correct meter readings.

"It is important for customers to know that, depending on the circumstances, you might not have to pay the full bill, for example if you've not received a bill or request for a meter reading but have been asking your energy company to send one," said Ms Guy. "And if you can't afford to pay the catch-up bill suppliers should offer you a payment plan that allows you to repay any debt over the same length of time that it has built up."

Meanwhile, The Independent and Policy Review Intelligence is hosting a Fair Energy Summit on Monday, supported by British Gas, Co-operative Energy and E.ON.

Energy company bosses and energy minister, Ed Davey, will be quizzed about rising prices.

Readers are invited to send in their questions and comments to as well as contribute during a live internet broadcast at at 10am on Monday.

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at

Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

    £16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior SEO Executive

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior SEO Executive is requi...

    Recruitment Genius: Online Customer Service Administrator

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Online customer Service Admi...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Executive

    £18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global, industry leading, ...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living