My energy supplier Bulb installed a smart meter in my house two years ago.
My account was credited with thousands of pounds, so to use it I lowered my monthly payments.
Since then, I keep getting “statement adjustments” which give very different numbers on how much credit or debt I have on my energy account.
I received a statement in Feb 2021 which said I had £3,850 credit. But by May that had been reduced to just £8.66 – the equivalent of my £900 a month energy usage.
Lightbulb error: The company wrongly charged our reader for two years because his smart meter was malfunctioning, leading him to believe he had thousands of charges on his account
No further statements came in until February 2022 when I was billed £6,240 for all my energy use from summer 2018 until today, apparently leaving me £1,790 in debt to Bulb.
The outstanding balance has increased by around £250 a month since then and is now £2,890.
My usual monthly bill is around £140 and I am retired with little disposable income.
What do I really owe? Is my account in credit, and if not, why did Bulb tell me it was and let me reduce my payments? And is charging back for energy used years ago against Ofgem’s chargeback rules? CF, Dorset
Helen Crane, This is Money Consumer Champion, responds: Energy is on many people’s minds this week, with regulator Ofgem set to raise the price cap again tomorrow.
This means that from October bills are expected to rise from £1,971 to £3,576 a year for typical users.
The cost of heating and electricity for our homes occupies an increasingly large part of our monthly budgets.
Many are worried about their bills, with some cutting usage down to the essentials in order to afford to keep the lights on – and that’s before even bigger increases in 2023 and winter sets in. install.
In light of that, companies might at least have the decency to charge them properly for what they use.
CRANE ON THE BODY
In our weekly column, This is Money consumer expert Helen Crane tackles readers’ pain points and shines a light on companies doing good and bad.
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But week after week I have readers contacting me saying that didn’t happen.
Although I see a lot of failed bills, the statements you sent me are some of the most confusing I have seen.
The intervals at which you received them seemed totally random, and every once in a while there would be a “statement adjustment” that would swing your account from several thousand credits to thousands in debt.
As a retiree with modest disposable income, I can see why this was a cause for concern.
Smart meters are supposed to make it easier to control the energy you use, but in your case it was quite the opposite.
You had no luck resolving the issue with Bulb, so I reached out to ask for an explanation of why your bill kept changing.
He said there was a problem with the smart meter when it was installed. It wasn’t sending information about your usage to Bulb, meaning you weren’t billed between August 2020 and February 2021.
Bulb fixed that, and that’s when you were told you had £3,850 in credit and reduced your monthly payments.
But three months later in May there was another billing error – so you weren’t billed for another period between May 2021 and January 2022.
Electricity prices: the cost of energy has increased for many customers, making it all the more important that their suppliers bill them accurately
When you finally received an invoice in February of this year, it duplicated some of the readings on both the old and the meters, so was not correct either.
In other words, from day one, nothing went well in this sad saga of smart meters.
Bulb issued another invoice based on correct information, which put you in debt of £1,830, offering you £200 as an apology. He suggested you pay £364 a month to cover your usage (now estimated at £242 following recent price hikes, and with ongoing charges added) and pay off the debt.
But it still didn’t suit me. If Bulb hadn’t said you were in credit, you wouldn’t have lowered your monthly payments and therefore wouldn’t be so in debt.
It’s hard to calculate given the sporadic nature of your bills, but I also suspect that some of the debt would be covered by Ofgem’s chargeback rules, which means your supplier can’t charge you the energy used more than a year ago.
You suggested meeting them in the middle and halving the debt to around £900.
But given all the confusion, I’m happy to say Bulb has agreed to pay off your £1,830 debt in full.
You now have two options. You could pay Bulb’s £242 per month fee, which is an average of your energy usage over the last 12 months. Or, you can choose to pay for exactly what you use – although that would likely mean higher bills for the winter months.
It’s still more than you were paying before given recent energy price inflation, but hopefully debt cancellation will blow your mind.
It just goes to show that it always pays to check your energy bills and challenge your supplier if something doesn’t seem right.
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My bills went crazy after installing a smart meter with Bulb