'Big Six' energy firms hit more people with demands for hundreds or thousands of pounds due to past undercharging

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Fears that the Big Six energy firms are hitting vulnerable people with surprise huge bills for disputed charges were growing tonight, as an increasing number of people reported receiving letters out of the blue demanding hundreds or thousands of pounds due to past undercharging.

The news comes as E.ON – which sent The Independent writer Terence Blacker a shock bill for almost £6,000 last Friday – announced a huge hike in gas and electricity prices for its estimated five million customers.

E.ON’s average dual fuel bill will increase on 18 January by 8.7 per cent, with electricity climbing 7.7 per cent and gas soaring 9.4 per cent. It is the last of the Big Six energy firms to announce winter hikes. Meanwhile, Citizens Advice revealed last night that it has handled more than 2,000 problems with back billing since April. That makes it the fourth biggest energy issue dealt with by the consumer service. In one shock case, a Birmingham couple in their  mid-70s were sent a bill by EDF for almost £1,200 to cover supposed past underpayments.

Almost six months later the situation remains unresolved and the couple are fearful of turning on their heating because of the rising cost. Their son, Stewart Graham, used his experience at a law firm to force EDF to look into his parents’ case.

“I’ve been told the meter is probably faulty and, at my request, EDF has put a new meter in alongside the old one,” he said. “But the company hasn’t done a thing to say sorry or explain things or offer any help to my parents. In fact they just bombarded them with further demands for cash.”

Mr Blacker is hopeful of sorting things out with his supplier. “But the reason why I thought it was worth going public with the issue is that people who don’t know their way round the internet or who are vulnerable to pressure could easily have fallen for this,” he said.

An E.ON spokesman said: “Above all else we’ll always do everything possible to help our customers.... If any customer receives a backdated bill from us the first thing they should do is get in touch with us so that we can check through all the details and work with them through the next steps.”

A spokesman for EDF said: “We will always try and resolve any disputes with our customers as quickly as possible – and around 95 per cent of complaints are dealt with within one working day.

“We hugely value our customers and are committed to delivering a consistently high level of service. Anyone with any concerns should contact us directly so we can resolve it as quickly as possible.”