Are you entitled to a refund on your fuel bills?

Paul Lewis / 16 September 2014

The six biggest gas and electricity suppliers have admitted they have held on to £153 million from ex-customers which they had no right to - and which they should have returned when customers moved to another supplier.

Pressed by the regulator Ofgem, they have set up a website to help ex-customers get their money back. In fact is still a work in progress and directs you to the individual websites of the big six suppliers. These range from the helpful to the opaque.

But if you have ever left one of the big six energy suppliers it is worth taking the trouble to check if you are owed money and get it back. More than three million people may be entitled to an average £50 each.

The big six are:

•    British Gas
•    edf energy
•    e.on
•    npower
•    Scottish Power
•    SSE (also trading as Southern Electric, Scottish Hydro, Atlantic, and Swalec)

Everyone who has switched will have left one of those six at some time. If you have also left a smaller supplier such as First Utility, Cooperative Energy, or Ovo then you will have to contact them separately as none of the smaller suppliers are currently on the website.

Everyone who is owed money will be repaid – however long ago that was. As energy switching first began in 1996, that could be a very long time indeed.

Some proof of address or a bill may be required. No interest will be paid on the money returned. And if you owe a supplier money for energy used in the last twelve months you will be expected to pay up. Older fuel debts MAY BE pursued but challenge them if they are. If you have any complaints or problems you can go to the energy ombudsman.

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The problem has arisen because the amount we pay for our energy is always an approximation - especially if we pay for our gas and electricity by the cheapest method of monthly direct debit. When we leave them for another supplier, or move address, they reconcile the amount paid with the final meter reading and there is usually a discrepancy.

In the past, energy suppliers have been good at collecting money from those who have not paid enough. But rather worse at refunding overpayments. Some have admitted that they did not routinely refund overpaid amounts, especially if they were below a certain size.

The companies say it is partly the fault of customers that so many people do not get a refund when they change supplier. Often, they say, we just stop direct debits or move without telling them, making it very difficult to track us down.

* Read Paul Lewis' money articles every month in Saga Magazine

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.