Energy firms criticised as websites crash in rush to submit meter readings

Customers have been advised to send in their readings ahead of a jump in energy prices on Friday.

Energy websites appeared to falter as customers rushed to submit meter readings before Friday’s price jump (PA)
Energy websites appeared to falter as customers rushed to submit meter readings before Friday’s price jump (PA)

Consumer groups have criticised energy firms for failing to avert a widescale crash of their websites as customers rushed to submit meter readings ahead of Friday’s price jump.

Customers reported issues logging in to supplier websites including British Gas, EDF, E.On, SSE, So Energy and Octopus Energy from early on Thursday.

Experts including Citizens Advice and MoneySavingExpert founder Martin Lewis had urged householders to submit meter readings to avoid being overcharged for their usage after the 54% increase to Ofgem’s price cap comes into effect on Friday.

Citizens Advice head of energy policy Gillian Cooper said: “This is a frustrating situation for customers, many of whom are already incredibly worried about how they’ll cope with rising bills.

“We know some energy companies have put in measures to prepare for a surge of people sending meter readings, but clearly it hasn’t been enough.

“If you’ve managed to take a photo of your meter you’ll be able to contact your provider with proof of your usage on March 31. If you weren’t able to take a meter reading your energy company will use a reasonable estimate of your energy usage before the price cap rise to calculate your bill.”

Which? consumer rights editor Adam French said: “Energy companies should have been prepared for higher numbers of customers getting in touch and should support any customers trying to submit their meter readings today.”

Energy firms described the situation as “unprecedented” and sought to calm customer anxiety by stressing that they can submit a date-stamped photo of their readings at any point over the next week.

Octopus Energy said: “It looks like every large energy provider’s website is down today – this is usually due to dramatically increased web visits.

“Martin Lewis’s advice for customers to submit meter readings on the same day as #MeterReadingDay has driven incredible traffic – we’ve added additional capacity this morning to bolster our servers and are fairly stable.

“It’s worth noting that Octopus Energy’s price change will actually not come into effect until 00:00 Saturday April 2. If customers are keen to give us a meter reading to coincide with the change, the best day to collect it is on April 2.

“If customers make a note of, or take a photograph of, their readings on Saturday April 2 they have a week to submit it to us via our online account or email, so needn’t worry if they can’t get it to us that day.”

A spokesman for Energy UK, the trade association for the industry, said: “We know that some suppliers are experiencing issues with their websites due to the volume of customers submitting meter readings.

“Suppliers are offering alternative ways of submitting readings so we’d recommend customers try those. Customers with smart meters do not need to worry as their readings are automatically sent to their supplier.”

A message on the British Gas website told customers it was facing “some technical issues we’re trying to resolve as quickly as possible”.

The message said customers could still submit readings but warned it could take “a little time to update your account with the meter reading you provided today”. Some customers reported receiving a message from the firm asking them to submit their readings by text message, leading some to fear it was an attempt at scamming them.

EDF Energy customers were unable to log in when they reached their MyAccount page, with a message reading: “Sorry…We’re carrying out some essential maintenance work on our site. We’ll be up and running again soon.”

E.On customers were also unable to log in to their accounts, while customers of So Energy reported being unable to log in or get through on customer helplines.

An E.On spokeswoman said: “We are seeing unprecedented volumes of customer traffic to our website and app. While we work to resolve this, we can confirm to our customers that any meter readings they take today can be updated to their account online in the coming days.

“We apologise for the inconvenience caused. Smart meter customers do not need to do anything as their readings will automatically be shared with us.”

Households will see the biggest rise in the cost of energy in living memory from Friday when bills increase by 54%, or almost £700, to just under £2,000 a year.

Many sites were struggling (Screengrab/PA)

The energy price cap for those on default tariffs who pay by direct debit is rising by £693 from £1,277 to £1,971 from April 1.

Prepayment customers will see a bigger jump, with their price cap going up by £708, from £1,309 to £2,017.

The regulator was forced to hike the energy price cap to a record £1,971 for a typical household as gas prices soared to unprecedented highs.

Fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA) warned the cost of heating an average home has now doubled in 18 months, leaving 6.5 million households unable to live in a warm, safe home across the UK.

NEA chief executive Adam Scorer said: “Quality of life for millions of people will plummet. Warm homes, cooked food, hot water, clean clothes – all cut back or cut out. Debt will spiral. Physical and mental health will suffer.

“This energy crisis is about to bite down hard on those least able to cope. Charities like NEA will try to pick up the pieces for those in greatest need. It will be a near impossible task.”

An Ofgem spokeswoman said: “We know this rise will be extremely worrying for many people.

“The energy market has faced a huge challenge due to the unprecedented increase in global gas prices, a once in a 30-year event, and Ofgem’s role as energy regulator is to ensure that, under the price cap, energy companies can only charge a fair price based on the true cost of supplying electricity and gas.

“Ofgem is working to stabilise the market and over the longer term to diversify our sources of energy, which will help protect customers from similar price shocks in the future.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has previously pledged to “take the sting out” of the price rises, promising all 28 million households in Britain would get a £200 up-front rebate on their energy bills from October.

The Government will provide the cash for this, but it wants the money back so will hike bills by £40 per year over the next five years from 2023 to recoup it.

If all goes to plan, wholesale energy prices will drop so households can pay back what they owe, without a major rise in bills.

Some energy company insiders worry that while good in principle, the policy is too reliant on falls in global gas prices.

Goldman Sachs has already warned that prices in the gas market are likely to remain at twice their usual levels until 2025.

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