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Energy bills and back billing: a guide to your rights

If you haven’t received an energy bill in a while, you’re probably wondering what’s going on. Here’s how to make sure you’re being billed on time and what you need to know about energy back-billing rules.

If you haven’t received an energy bill in a while, you’re probably wondering what’s going on. Here’s how to make sure you’re being billed on time and what you need to know about energy back-billing rules.

Written by
Sajni Shah
Utilities comparison expert
Last Updated
17 MAY 2023
6 min read
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What is back billing?

A back bill is essentially a catch-up bill sent by your energy provider for any gas and electricity that you’ve used but haven’t yet paid for.

Mistakes, errors or inaccurate readings could mean you don’t receive an accurate energy bill for a while. Unfortunately, this means you could get a nasty surprise when things are corrected and you’re sent an accumulated bill out of the blue.

The idea of getting an unexpected energy bill for hundreds – or even thousands of pounds is worrying. So it’s important to know your rights and understand how gas and electricity back billing rules work.

What are the back-billing rules?

Under the back billing policy set by energy regulator Ofgem, energy companies can only back bill you for gas and electricity used within the last 12 months.

That means that if you were billed inaccurately for your gas or electricity, your energy provider has a year to bill you correctly for what you owe. Otherwise, you can refuse to pay. This includes situations where a supplier increases your direct debit because it was set too low.

But back billing laws won’t apply if you behave unreasonably. For example if you:

  • Deliberately block your energy provider from collecting accurate meter readings.
  • Steal gas or electricity.

What should I do if I haven’t received an energy bill in a while?

If you haven’t received an energy bill in a while, or since moving home, it’s important you report it to your energy supplier directly, as soon as possible.

Remember — if there’s no bill, it doesn’t mean your energy provider has forgotten and has stopped charging you for gas and electricity. Choosing to take advantage of this kind of oversight rarely works in the customer’s favour, so it's best to let your energy provider know as soon as possible if you haven’t received a bill.

Even with back billing regulations in place, you could still get hit with a back bill for up to 12 months of energy usage. And with energy prices as high as they are, that could be a huge amount.

If you’ve moved home, it’s important to let the energy supplier know you’ve taken over the supply in your new property. Take meter readings and contact them as soon as possible, so they can set up an account in your name.

Likewise, if you’ve changed suppliers and haven't received a bill from your new supplier, contact them with meter readings to make sure you get billed correctly.

Why might I not receive my energy bills or be under-billed?

There are three main reasons you might not have received your energy bills on a regular basis:

  • Estimated meter readings – if you haven’t been sending your energy provider regular meter readings, your bills will be based on estimates, which could mean you’re underpaying. If you’re using more energy than you’ve paid for, you’ll eventually get a bill for the amount you owe.
  • Cancelled direct debit – if your direct debit has been accidentally cancelled, you may not have been sent a bill for a while. Once the error is spotted, you’ll receive a bill for missed payments you owe.
  • Wrong meter number – it could happen that you’ve been charged under the wrong meter number. Once the mistake is spotted, you could receive a hefty bill for the correct amount of energy you’ve used.

What should I do if my energy provider overcharges me?

If you receive a back bill that covers a period longer than the back billing rules allow, you should write to your supplier and explain your rights.

Inform the energy company that under back billing rules, you cannot be charged for more than 12 months energy usage. If you’ve previously tried to contact your supplier about not receiving accurate bills, include this in the letter.

To make things easier, you can use the back billing complaint letter template provided by Citizen’s Advice.

Your energy supplier should send you a new bill for the correct amount. If the supplier continues to insist you pay a back bill over 12 months old, make a formal complaint. If you’re concerned that you’re not being treated fairly, you can contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 0808 223 113 for free and impartial guidance.

What if I can’t afford to settle my back-bill?

If you simply can’t afford to pay the full amount owed on the back-bill, it’s important that you let your supplier know.

Most energy providers will offer you a payment plan that allows you to pay back your debt in smaller amounts over the same length of time that the debt was accrued. For example, if you receive a back-bill for a period of six months, you should be given six months to pay the outstanding amount back in full. Suppliers have to take into account what you can afford, so make sure you make this clear to them.

I don’t know who my energy supplier is. How do I find out?

If you haven’t been receiving your energy bills and you don’t know who to contact, fear not. Read our guide to finding out who your supplier is.

You can use the Meter Point Administration’s online search tool, to find out who supplies your gas.

And you can find your electricity supplier using the Energy Networks Association postcode search tool. 

Frequently asked questions

How can I avoid back-billing?

Having a smart meter will make sure regular meter readings are sent to your supplier. Otherwise, you’ll need to take regular readings and send them to your supplier yourself.

Check your energy bills to make sure the details are correct. For example, if you get an estimated bill, that it's close to your actual meter reading.

If you pay by direct debit, double check that your bank account information and direct debit details are correct, and the right amount is being paid each month or quarter.

If you’re moving, take a meter reading and tell your old energy supplier so your account can be updated and closed. Then contact your new supplier so you’re not being charged for energy the previous occupant used. Contact your supplier if you don't get a bill.

Can a smart meter prevent back-billing?

A smart meter can prevent back-billing because it automatically takes regular readings and sends them directly to the energy supplier. This means you’ll receive accurate bills, and you’ll only pay for the energy you use.

Another benefit is that you can see the cost and amount of energy you’re using in real time on the In-Home Display (IHD) that comes with your smart meter. 

If you haven’t already been offered a smart meter by your energy supplier, you can contact them and request one. Installation is free of charge.

How do I complain about my energy supplier?

If you feel you’ve been treated unfairly by your energy supplier for back-billing or any other issues, you should contact them and explain why. Energy suppliers have a complaints process to follow and they should contact you within eight weeks. 

If you don’t hear back from them within this time, or you’re not happy with their response, you can take your complaint to the energy ombudsman.

Citizens Advice offers help and support in presenting your complaint. You can call their helpline on 0800 223 113 or chat with an adviser online.

Do I legally have to pay for gas and electric?

Yes, you’ll normally have to pay for any gas or electricity you’ve used. That’s true even if you didn’t sign a contract with your energy provider.

There are a couple of exceptions:

  • If you were sent estimated bills or didn’t receive a bill, you’ll only have to pay for the gas and electricity you’ve used in the last 12 months, under Ofgem’s back-billing rules.
  • If you pay your landlord for energy, you don’t have to pay the energy supplier too. Redirect the energy provider to your landlord.
  • If you receive a bill for energy you didn’t use (for example, for dates you weren’t resident at the property) or if someone signed you up to a contract without your consent, you’ll need to complain to the energy provider and back up your claim.

How long can an energy company chase debt?

If an energy company has properly informed you of an accurate bill, and you fail to pay, they can legally pursue the debt for up to six years.

If you’re struggling with debt, you can get free and comprehensive support from a trained, experienced debt advisor.

Can I refuse to pay my electric or gas bill?

It depends. Under Ofgem’s back billing rules, you can refuse to pay your electric or gas bill if you receive a back bill for electricity or gas usage that’s for more than a year ago. You may be sent a back bill if you received an estimated bill at the time or the company failed to bill you through an error on their part.

You’ll need to show that you attempted to contact your supplier and didn’t intentionally block accurate readings from being taken.

Sajni Shah - Consumer expert on utilities and money

Sajni is passionate about building products, allowing Compare the Market to help you make great financial decisions. She keeps track of the latest trends and evolving markets to find new ways to help you save money.

Learn more about Sajni

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