My energy supplier Bulb installed a smart meter at my home two years ago.
My account was thousands of pounds in credit, so to use it up I reduced my monthly payments.
Since then, I keep getting sent ‘statement adjustments’ which give wildly different figures about how much credit or debt I have on my energy account.
I got a statement in February 2021 that told me I was £3,850 in credit. But by May, that had reduced to just £8.66 – the equivalent of me having used £900 of energy per month.
Bulb blunder: The company billed our reader wrongly for two years because his smart meter didn’t work properly, leading him to think he was thousands in debit on his account
No more statements came in until February 2022, when I was billed £6,240 for my entire energy use from summer 2018 to the present day, apparently leaving me £1,790 in debt to Bulb.
The balance outstanding has been increasing by around £250 per month since then and is now £2,890.
My usual monthly bill is around £140, and I’m retired with little disposable income.
What do I actually owe? Is my account in credit, and if it isn’t, why did Bulb tell me it was and let me reduce my payments? And is billing me retrospectively for energy used years ago against Ofgem’s back-billing rules? F.K, Dorset
Helen Crane, This is Money consumer champion, replies: Energy is on many people’s minds this week, with the regulator Ofgem set to increase the price cap once again tomorrow.
It means that, from October, bills are expected to increase from £1,971 to £3,576 a year for typical users.
The cost of heating and powering our homes is taking up an ever-increasing chunk of our monthly budgets.
Many are anxious about their bills, with some cutting down usage to the bare bones in order to afford to keep the lights on – and that’s before even bigger rises in 2023 and winter setting in.
In light of this, companies could at least have the decency to charge them correctly for what they do use.
But week in, week out, readers contact me to tell me this hasn’t happened.
While I see plenty of bungled bills, the statements you sent me were some the most confusing I have laid eyes on.
The intervals at which you received them seemed totally random, and every now and then there would be a ‘statement adjustment’ which would flip your account from being thousands in credit to thousands in debt.
As a pensioner with a modest disposable income, I can see why this was a cause for concern.
Smart meters are supposed to make it easier to keep tabs on the energy you are using, but in your case it was quite the opposite.
You had no luck resolving the issue with Bulb, so I contacted it to ask for an explanation of why your bill kept changing.
It said that there was a problem with the smart meter when it was installed. It wasn’t sending information about your usage to Bulb, meaning that you didn’t get billed between August 2020 and February 2021.
Bulb resolved that issue, and it was at this point you were told you were £3,850 in credit and lowered your monthly payments.
But three months later in May, there was yet another billing error – so you weren’t billed for another period between May 2021 and January 2022.
Price of power: The cost of energy has been rising for many customers, making it even more important that their suppliers bill them accurately
When you finally received a bill in February this year, it duplicated some of the readings across both the old and meters, and therefore also wasn’t correct.
In other words, from day one, nothing went right in this sorry smart meter saga.
Bulb issued another bill based on correct information, which put you £1,830 in debt, offering you £200 as an apology. It suggested you pay £364 per month to cover your usage (now estimated at £242 following recent price rises, and with standing charges added on) and paying off the debt.
But that still didn’t sit right with me. Had Bulb not told you were in credit, you wouldn’t have lowered your monthly payments, and therefore wouldn’t be in as much debt.
It’s difficult to work out given the sporadic nature of your bills, but I also suspect that parts of the debt would be covered by Ofgem’s back billing rules, which mean that your supplier can’t charge you for energy used more than a year ago.
You suggested that you could meet them in the middle, and halve the debt to around £900.
But given all the confusion, I’m happy to say Bulb agreed to clear your £1,830 debt in full.
You now have two options. You could pay Bulb’s £242 per month charge, which represents an average of your energy use over the past 12 months. Or, you could opt to pay for exactly what you use – though this would probably mean higher bills for the winter months.
It’s still more than you were paying before given the recent energy price inflation, but hopefully having the debt written off will be a weight off your mind.
It just goes to show that it always pays to sense check your energy bills, and to challenge your supplier if something doesn’t seem right.
Speedy solution: AutoAid got Lisa home quickly and safely when her car broke down
Brilliant breakdown firm
Reader Lisa rolled into my inbox to sing the praises of car breakdown service AutoAid, who came to her rescue when she found herself in a potentially scary situation.
Unfortunately, she broke down in at a junction on a busy A road. Desperate, she called AutoAid to ask for help – and she described its response as ‘amazing’.
Lisa said: ‘The person offered to take details over the phone but because of the traffic I struggled to hear them, so they sent me a text with a link to a brief online form.
‘They initially quoted an hour and a half, but as I was a lone disabled female in a dangerous spot they prioritised my call and arrived in 45 minutes.
‘While I was waiting they gave me safety advice, and then regularly called me to check everything was okay until I got back home.’
I was pleased to hear that the company got her home safe and sound.