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4. Arrears as a result of estimated bills
Estimated bills are a common way to accrue arrears. The former Energywatch indicated that where gas arrears built up over an extended period because of a succession of estimated bills, repayment of the arrears could be made over an equivalent, extended period if you would otherwise be caused hardship. This remains a sound principle. Since 1 May 2018, suppliers are prohibited from sending you a retrospective bill (back-bill), or otherwise recover, beyond 12 months.1Condition 21BA.1 SLC These back-bills result from a supplier’s failure to undertake an actual meter reading or problems with a supplier’s billing system and only sending you a bill once an accurate meter reading is taken. This is subject to certain exceptions and does not apply if you have been obstructive or unreasonable, such as preventing a supplier from taking or receiving accurate meter readings, including obstructing access to the meter or tampering with the meter.2Condition 21BA.2 SLC You are not at fault for failing to provide a supplier with an accurate meter reading.
If you cannot afford the rate of repayment of arrears on the basis that you have received a large back-bill, you should be allowed to repay the arrears at a rate you can genuinely afford (see here). Your supplier may request that a prepayment meter be fitted as a way to manage arrears, particularly if you are only able to offer very low repayments. If you are experiencing genuine financial hardship and would prefer not to have a prepayment meter, it is not safe or reasonably practicable or you have a vulnerability (eg, a mental impairment), your supplier should also offer you a range of other options for repayment. If it does not, contact Citizens Advice consumer service for further advice. Also check your supplier’s codes of practice on the payment of bills and on prepayment meters.
If you disagree with a bill, you should pay a reasonable estimate of your usage. Once an accurate bill is produced by the supplier, you should seek a refund for overpaid sums or ask that overpaid sums are credited for future usage.
Where arrears have accrued because of estimated billing, ensure that your supplier has adhered to the minimum standards for meter reading (see here). Energy UK’s voluntaryCode of Practice for Accurate Bills (the ‘billing code’) may also be useful.3Energy UK, Code of Practice for Accurate Bills, April 2018 These are a number of voluntary commitments made by member suppliers4Members are British Gas (including Scottish Gas), E.On, EDF Energy, NPower, ScottishPower and SSE. to provide increased safeguards and higher standards of service with regards to bills. The code sets out the minimum standards members must follow and their responsibilities to ensure accurate and clear bills. It includes commitments to obtain and record the most up-to-date and accurate meter readings and that any payments are set at the right level. Members are rigorously audited annually to ensure compliance. It is advisable to take your own readings regularly – at least once every three months – to ensure that a supplier’s estimate of your consumption is correct. Suppliers usually amend estimated bills if you give them your own reading.
The roll-out of smart meters should, in theory, see the end of estimated billing as the meter sends information to your supplier remotely about how much energy you have used and allows accurate bills to be produced on a regular basis.
1     Condition 21BA.1 SLC »
2     Condition 21BA.2 SLC »
3     Energy UK, Code of Practice for Accurate Bills, April 2018 »
4     Members are British Gas (including Scottish Gas), E.On, EDF Energy, NPower, ScottishPower and SSE. »