In December, I flagged up concerns about two-year-old energy supplier Utility Point. A customer had waited in vain to receive £377 credit owed. The customer service line was not accepting calls, live chat was unresponsive and emails were ignored.
That triggered a spate of complaints from other readers, many of whom had been switched to the supplier by online service Look After My Bills (Lamb) and all of whom were owed significant sums.
In January, a Utility Point employee got in touch. According to the whistleblower, the company attracts custom with eyecatching deals then hikes direct debits in bulk, regardless of the credit balance. “This increases inward cash flow and, because the majority of customers come through Lamb and so are defined as ‘passive’, they don’t pick up on the increase until Lamb switches them to a new supplier,” my source told me.
“Because Lamb switched thousands of customers on the same day, the majority of which had been significantly overcharged, Utility Point did not have the resources to refund them within the 10 days required by the regulator, Ofgem. Continuing customers are in an even worse position; if they make a refund request, they are ignored.” The phone line was shut, the source said, because of the volume of customers calling. It’s since been reinstated.
Utility Point denies the allegations. It told me that direct debits were reviewed on an individual basis, and pointed to an increase in consumption as customers worked from home. Asked about the delays in refunding credits, it blamed a surge in calls as people struggled to pay bills, and claimed its phone line was shut to keep staff safe. “Utility Point prides itself on the accuracy of its billing and will uphold its obligations to ensure customers only pay for the energy they consume,” it said.
The Energy Ombudsman confirmed that complaints about Utility Point have increased significantly since December, mostly about billing.
Why does this matter to the rest of us? Clawing back overpayments is proving a problem across the sector, and if a company goes bust we all have to foot the bill for refunding affected customers.
Last week, Ofgem said it was consulting on proposals to limit the amount of credit that suppliers can hold after discovering they were collectively sitting on £1.4bn of overpayments in October 2018. It said it was “in conversation” with Utility Point, but could not comment on any investigation.
Lamb said it would investigate allegations of bulk increases in direct debits. “We share people’s frustrations with how long it’s taking to get refunds,” it said. “We’re in constant dialogue with Utility Point to try and speed up the process so members, who we have switched away from Utility Point, get their money as soon as possible.”
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