UK consumers
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Almost 13 million households in the UK are owed a total of £1.7 billion ($2.1 billion) by their energy suppliers — up 13.5% (£230 million) compared to last year, according to new research comparison and switching site Uswitch.com.

Consumers who pay for their energy by direct debit can often find themselves in credit with their supplier as their monthly payments don’t exactly match their gas and electricity usage.

Their direct debit amounts stay the same every month, but their energy usage changes depending on the time of year. This means that consumers should be in credit with their supplier following the summer months, and in debt to their provider in the depths of winter.

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But coming out of winter this year, almost half of all UK households (46%) are due a refund from the energy provider, with the average amount worth £136 — up £10 on last year. In addition, one in ten energy bill-payers (10%) are owed a rebate of more than £200. One in five consumers (19%) say the amount they are in credit with their energy supplier has grown since last year.

Some energy providers do not automatically issue refunds to customers whose accounts are in credit, meaning any money owed to consumers can go unclaimed for months. Almost six in ten (57%) report that their energy supplier has never automatically credited their account.

Many consumers need more information about how to reclaim their money, as almost half of people (46%) are not aware how to. One in ten households (10%) didn’t know whether they were in credit or debt.

At the other end of the scale, 3.9 million households (14%) are in debt to their provider at the end of winter, a total of £548 million for the UK — and an average of £142 each — up £20 (16%) on last year. More than a quarter (27%) say that their debt is higher than it was last year, and nearly one in ten (9%) have moved from being in credit last year to owing their supplier this year.

Concerns over growing debt led some households to take measures to reduce their energy use over the winter period. Steps taken by people include turning down the thermostat (30%), only using the heating on certain days (24%) and turning down each radiator individually (23%).

During the coronavirus lockdown, Uswitch.com is advising consumers to think about whether they want to reclaim their credit, or use it as a buffer to help pay for the extra gas and electricity they will use while spending so much extra time at home. In addition, vulnerable customers can get support from their energy provider.

The vast majority of suppliers either refund automatically or allow you to fill in a form online. If consumers want to reclaim credit, it’s recommended that they do this via suppliers’ websites rather than calling wherever possible, as suppliers’ contact centres are extremely busy supporting more vulnerable customers.

Sarah Broomfield, energy expert at Uswitch.com commented, “Energy firms owe £1.7 billion to families across the UK. At a time when many people are finding their finances squeezed as well as using extra gas and electricity because they have to stay at home, this will be welcome news for anyone sitting on unclaimed credit from their energy supplier.

“More than a fifth of households say that the amount of credit or debt they’re in has increased in the last year, and we hope that providers will act quickly to make sure that direct debit payments accurately reflect energy use.”

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