British Gas has paid £2.65 million in refunds, compensation and redress after it misinformed customers by issuing incorrect terms and conditions about exit fees. It was also found that British Gas had wrongly charged them to some customers and applied incorrect charges to others after their fixed deal came to an end.
An Ofgem investigation found that British Gas provided 2.5 million customers with incorrect terms and conditions, which stated that exit fees were payable during the 49 day period before their fixed deal expires. Under licence conditions, a customer is generally entitled to switch at any time during or after this “switching window” without having to pay an exit fee. This switching window is designed to encourage customers to switch to a better deal before they are rolled onto a default tariff at the end of their contract.
British Gas wrongly charged 1,698 of its fixed deal customers exit fees totalling £64,968 when they switched supplier during the switching window.
A further 94,211 customers were overcharged £782,450 by British Gas after they decided to switch supplier during the switching window. Due to a system error, the supplier did not extend these customers’ fixed-term contracts, instead wrongly rolling them onto its more expensive standard variable tariff rate.
The same system error also led to 18,095 customers who decided to switch being wrongly charged at a cheaper rate. Ofgem opened an investigation in July 2017 following concerns raised by MoneySavingExpert.com.
Before the investigation concluded, British Gas refunded in full all customers who had been overcharged by more than £1 and paid £502,633 in compensation to them. Following Ofgem’s findings, British Gas agreed to pay a further £244,770 in compensation to customers wrongly charged exit fees and the standard variable tariff and pay £1,050,229 into Ofgem’s consumer redress fund.
Anthony Pygram, Director of Conduct and Enforcement at Ofgem, said “British Gas failed its customers who were coming to the end of their fixed contracts and switched supplier by unfairly penalising them and applying charges in error. Many more customers could have been deterred from getting a better deal due to the incorrect terms and conditions. Ofgem put in place the switching window to help all customers switch before they are rolled onto their supplier’s expensive default rate.”
“Our enforcement action against British Gas sends a strong message to all suppliers that they must respect their customers’ rights during the switching window and always treat customers fairly.”
Ofgem said before and during the investigation, British Gas had corrected its terms and conditions for customers to make clear they would not be charged exit fees during the switching window and changed its procedure for producing this information. The supplier also agreed to appoint an external auditor to review the relevant policies and procedures and has committed to implement its “reasonable” recommendations once the audit has been completed.
Ofgem also said is satisfied that British Gas has taken appropriate steps to contact, refund and compensate customers as soon as possible, as well as correcting its terms and conditions to make sure customers are not deterred from switching to a different supplier in the future.
Peter Earl, Head of Energy, Compare the Market, said: “That’s one way to deal with a customer exodus – charge them to leave when you’re not entitled to! This shoddy behaviour, coupled with better deals elsewhere, is precisely why so many people are leaving the Big Six in droves. Sadly, it seems that many people just paid the wrongly imposed fees without even knowing. This is largely down to the fact that the energy market is too confusing. There are still too few people actively engaged in their energy use and bills, and therefore too many people are stuck on very uncompetitive variable tariffs. To then wrongly penalise customers for switching, is a real kick in the teeth.”