Energy companies in Northern Ireland can only backdate consumers 13 months for outstanding amounts where there has been a supplier fault in calculating the correct amount to be paid by the consumer.
That is often caused when a meter is not read and an estimate is used – suppliers are now required to ensure they receive accurate meter readings throughout the year rather than bills being based on estimated readings.
The new rules will come into effect from 1st October 2020.
Energy suppliers could previously go back up to six years and request payments from domestic and microbusiness consumers to settle outstanding amounts for previous energy use.
Exceptions to the 13-month limit include backbills issued before 1st October 2020, when the supplier has been unable to bill for any unpaid energy due to unlawful activity, for example, meter tampering and when a supplier has been unable to get an actual reading “despite using all reasonable efforts”.
Jenny Pyper, Chief Executive of the Utility Regulator said: “Our decision to limit electricity and gas backbilling for domestic and microbusiness customers to 13 months aims to ensure that consumers are treated fairly, providing added protection.”
The Consumer Council welcomed the new rules to limit the length of time electricity and gas companies can backbill customers.
Head of Energy Policy Michael Legg added: “Backbilling can result in a surprise bill for consumers, creating energy debt and financial hardship. It is important that unnecessary debt is avoided and better managed. The new rules implemented by the Utility Regulator is good news for consumers as it will help reduce backbilling.
“We would also encourage consumers to play their part by submitting their own meter readings, allowing access for meter readings or filling in the self-complete cards left by NIE Networks and gas suppliers. If you need help with how to read your meter, contact your supplier. You should also regularly check your energy bills. If something does not look right, contact your supplier so they can look into the matter.”