Switching with a debt
- If the consumer owes money for less than 28 days (for example, the most recent bill has not been paid), then normally they are able to change supplier as soon as the bill is settled.
- If the consumer is in debt because of a mistake by their supplier, they can still switch but will have to pay any debt.
- If the supplier increases their prices and blocks a consumer from switching because of an outstanding debt, the consumer has thirty days to pay the amount. If the debt is paid within this period the consumer can switch without having to pay the increased price.
- If the consumer does not have a prepayment meter and they have a debt, the supplier can stop them from switching until the debt is paid. This is known as ‘debt-blocking’. If the supplier blocks the consumer’s request to switch in this instance they must offer advice on the best tariff they offer, managing debt and energy efficiency advice.
- If the consumer has a prepayment meter they can switch supplier with a debt up to £500 for electricity and for gas. The consumer will have to continue using a prepayment meter with a new supplier at least until the debt is paid off. This situation is covered by the Debt Assignment Protocol (DAP). This allows prepayment meter (PPM) users with a debt of up to £500 to switch and transfer the debt to a new supplier. Since April 2015 ten suppliers (British Gas, Ecotricity, EDF Energy, E.ON, First Utility, npower, Spark Energy, Scottish Power, SSE and Utility Warehouse) have changed how they operate the DAP to make it easier for prepayment customers to switch. They will provide prepayment customers with the necessary information to share data and seek customers’ consent to transfer a debt at the point the customer agrees to switch supplier. This enables the switch to automatically proceed via the DAP if a debt objection occurs (i.e. their current supplier objects to the switch) and the outstanding balance is £500 or less for the fuel being switched. The customer’s preferred supplier will automatically work with the current supplier to complete the switch. If the customer received a debt objection letter and is trying to switch to a supplier who is not one of the ten listed above they will need to speak to their preferred supplier and agree to restart the switch.
- If a consumer is owed money by their supplier they can switch. The supplier is required to pay back the money owed to the consumer on switching. The consumer can request their money be paid back to them at any time.
Paying landlord for energy used
The consumer pays their landlord directly for the energy they use either as part of their rent or separately.
If the tenant pays an energy supplier directly they have a contract with them. Ofgem, in their tenancy rights factsheet, published in September 2013; state that the landlord or letting agent should not prevent the tenant from switching in these circumstances.
Terms of the lease
The consumer’s lease specifies that they cannot change supplier. The tenancy may say the landlord has a preferred supplier and that the tenant needs to inform the landlord if they wish to switch. Should this be the case, the landlord or letting agent should make the tenant aware of any tie-ins with specific suppliers. It may be that the tenant has to return the account to the original supplier at the end of the tenancy. See Ofgem’s factsheet ‘Tenants’ Energy Rights Explained’ for further information.
Prior to privatisation regional electricity boards offered a number of different electric heating solutions that required unique metering systems and tariffs. Following privatisation electricity suppliers formed out of the regional electricity boards were compelled to continue offering these tariffs for that region, however, other suppliers did not have to offer an alternative.
This means that some consumers would have to change their entire heating system to transfer to another supplier. The three rates Total Heating Total Control, Weathercall and ComfortPlus are examples of protected tariffs.