Single mum forced into debt after energy firm refused to let her switch
This story is an absolute scandal. A single mother-of-two has been forced into £1,400 worth of debt because her energy supplier are refusing to let her switch to a cheaper provider.
Julie Duran tried to switch from First Utility, now Shell Energy, as far back as January 2018 after her 12 month fixed plan with First Utility came to an end.
Julie only works part-time, so she knew she simply couldn't afford a default tariff - which, basically, means you pay a higher rate.
So she tried to find a cheaper tariff, and she did, with Solarplicity. But when she tried to switch supplier, things got really complicated.
According to the Daily Mirror, a month later, Julie discovered a sudden bill from First Utility on her bank statement.
At first Julie assumed it was an admin error, so contacted First Utility to get it corrected.
However, it was then that a customer services agent explained that she wasn't within her rights to switch.
"I was told I couldn't leave despite not owing them a single penny. I was completely trapped," she said.
"I explained I couldn't afford to be on the standard variable tariff as I'm a single mum who only works part time, but they refused to listen," Julie, who is also registered as disabled, added.
"At no point did they even offer me a cheaper tariff."
Stunned, she decided to escalate her case to the Energy Ombudsman - who ruled in her favour.
First Utility was ordered to pay her £175 in compensation for breaching switching rules. Everyone was happy.
Or so she thought.
In the days after issuing a final outcome, adjudicators raised a further investigation into Julie's meter readings.
They believed she had been billed for the wrong meter all along.
Worried, Julie decided to stick with First Utility - which has since been rebranded as Shell Energy - until an outcome had been agreed.
In the interim, she stopped all payments over fears that she was paying for the wrong meter. But all the while, her bills were mounting.
In August last year, adjudicators finally ruled that she was, in fact, on the right meter - which meant she was finally able to leave.
But to her surprise, things took another turn.
"First Utility once again refused to let me leave on the grounds that I had not paid an outstanding bill.
"This was for the SVT I was forced onto. They were insisting that I pay the expensive rate despite me telling them on numerous occasions that I did not want to be on that tariff and couldn't afford it.
"If they had let me go in the first place, I wouldn't have been on it.
"Not only was I once again trapped, but I was being asked to pay an inflated bill for a tariff I never wanted to be on.
"I wasn't offered a payment plan, nor was I offered a cheaper tariff. They were demanding a lump sum of £1,244.10.
"I was left with nothing but a bill for a tariff I tried to avoid months ago," she said.
Shell Energy have now backdated Julie's bills to their cheapest available tariff.
She now owes £1,288.05 instead of £1,417.63. She's also been offered £100 credit as a gesture of goodwill.
Julie is also now free to leave and has been put on a payment plan of £118 a month to help clear her balance over the next 12 months.
"We'd like to apologies to Ms Duran for the frustration she's experienced here," a spokesman told Mirror Money.
"Her account debt stems from the fact that no payment was made during the Ombudsman's subsequent investigation, we're not sure where the confusion came from here as we certainly wouldn't advise any customer to cease payments in this case.
"Ms Duran was free to switch to a cheaper tariff should she have wished, but we have agreed to backdate her bill based on our cheapest tariff which will reduce the amount owed.
"We've also offered her a further £100 credit as a gesture of goodwill for the ongoing frustration due to the Ombudsman's second investigation.
"We've also agreed a payment plan with Ms Duran to allow her to pay for the energy she consumed (at our cheapest price) in more manageable installments."
Yes, there are some scenarios where your supplier can block you from switching, for example if you owe above a certain amount.
If you've been in debt to your supplier for more than 28 days, you'll need to repay that debt before you can move.
If you have a prepayment meter, you won't be able to switch if you owe more than £500 for gas or £500 for electricity.
If your debt is below this threshold, you’ll need to ask the new supplier to agree to transfer your debt along with your move (this is called the ‘Debt Assignment Protocol’).
Importantly, though, it's your supplier's fault you're in debt, they can't stop you from switching.
If you’re on a prepayment meter, or have an Economy 7 or Economy 10 meter installed, you need to move to a new supplier that supports them or have standard meter installed - which your new supplier might charge you for.
If you live in rented or shared accommodation, you may not be able to switch without the property owner's permission - we've got a full guide on this here .
If, like Julie, your supplier is blocking you without good reason, make a formal complaint.
If you're unhappy with their outcome, escalate it to the Energy Ombudsman who'll make an impartial decision for you.
Or tell A Spokesman Said in our reviews section.
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