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Harassment by suppliers and debt collectors
In some cases, a supplier may wrongly attempt to pursue a claim against you long after any supply and any liability has ended. Such acts may constitute harassment if the supplier persists despite you establishing the true position.
In extreme cases, sending demands for payment accompanied by threats of disconnection or referral to credit reference agencies may constitute harassment both in civil and criminal law.1Ferguson v British Gas Trading Ltd [2009] EWCA Civ 46 Remedies can include reporting the harassment to the police as a criminal offence, seeking a civil injunction in the County Court or applying for a breathing space moratorium (see here).2DRS Regs
Suppliers’ licences also contain conditions requiring them and any agent/representative to behave and carry out any actions in a fair, honest, transparent, appropriate and professional manner.3Condition 0.3(a) SLC Referrals and complaints can be made to Ofgem if a breach is suspected. A formal complaint can also be raised against the supplier and ultimately with the Energy Ombudsman.
In other cases, an old debt may be assigned by the energy company to a firm of debt collectors. These companies may contact you frequently by letter and by telephone, threatening to take legal action against you. Often they are based far from where you live and have no intention of issuing any sort of legal proceedings or visiting you, despite claims in the letter that they will do so (see Chapter 14).
If you deal with these companies, do so in writing or email, rather than by telephone, bearing in mind the advice above about the limitation period if you have not had any contact with the supplier or its representatives for some time. You should seek advice if possible before responding.
Any such claim should be closely examined to ensure that there has not been a mistake. If contacting a debt collecting company, request copies of all the alleged paperwork on which the claim is based. As fuel debts are based upon contract, there should be evidence of a valid assignment of the debt between the energy company and the debt collector. An ‘assignment’ is a legal document whereby the legal right to claim the debt is transferred from one person to another, including the right of enforcement. The details of any assignment must match precisely the amount being claimed. You should ask the debt collecting company to produce a copy of any assignment from the original supplier.
Debt collectors have no right of entry to your home. If they make threats or commit acts of harassment, contact the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), which has responsibility for regulating such companies and will investigate incidents of serious misconduct. The FCA’s Consumer Credit Source Book may be useful here; particularly section 7 which refers to the conduct of external debt collection companies. Although gas and electricity contracts are not regulated agreements, the guidance set down in section 7 can be used as useful guidance to what constitutes reasonable behaviour. See
1     Ferguson v British Gas Trading Ltd [2009] EWCA Civ 46 »
2     DRS Regs »
3     Condition 0.3(a) SLC »
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