Using codes of practice and policy statements
Suppliers are subject to regulations which govern how they handle a complaint. The Gas and Electricity (Consumer Complaints Handling Standards) Regulations 2008 set down standards for the handling of complaints and the supply of information to consumers. Every supplier has to conform to the regulations; it should have a code of practice based upon the regulations for handling complaints. It must provide a copy of its complaints handling procedure, free of charge, to any person who requests a copy and must have its complaints procedure in a prominent position on its website.1Reg 10 GE(CCHS) Regs Ofgem reviews the complaints system every two years. Suppliers which breach these regulations may be issued with a penalty notice requiring them to pay compensation. For example, in August 2014, EDF Energy was required to pay £3 million in compensation to vulnerable customers for breaching regulations in the way it dealt with customer complaints, arising from long waiting times when customers attempted to contact the company.2Ofgem press release, EDF Energy to pay £3 million following Ofgem investigation into the company’s complaints handling arrangements, 22 August 2014 Suppliers have also produced other codes of practice, as required by their licences, and staff may be more familiar with these than with the precise provisions of the law. So long as the provisions of a code of practice support your case, it may be easier and more effective to quote these; alternatively, extracts from the Standard Licence Conditions may be quoted where appropriate. Each code of practice has to be approved by Ofgem before being used.3Conditions 27 and 39 SLC
Each supplier should have codes of practice on:
•payment of bills;
•services for elderly or disabled people;
•using fuel efficiently;
•prepayment meters and site access.
Each supplier also produces various documents on its policies and other useful information. It is obliged to publish information regularly about its performance compared with targets set by Ofgem and by itself. Use these if they support your case, but always be cautious – as a summary of the law, they will not always be accurate.
Also, as the supply of fuel is carried out by contract, not by statutory duty, provisions as to unfair contract terms apply. If you believe that a term in your contract is unfair, you can use this to support any negotiations (see here). Failure to follow a code of practice or an inadequate code of practice is not automatically negligence or a civil wrong in itself, but it can be evidence in support of such a claim.4Smith and others v South Eastern Power Networks plc and other cases  EWHC 2541 QBD(TCC); Thompson v Smiths Shiprepairers (North Shields) Ltd  QB 405 Your supplier should send you an annual written notification about the existence of its complaints handling procedure and how you can obtain a copy of it.5Reg 10(3) GE(CCHS) Regs as amended by The Gas and Electricity (Consumer Complaints Handling Standards) (Amendment) Regulations 2017 No.428 This obligation does not apply to gas transporters or electricity distributors.6Reg 10(3) as amended by 2017 SI 428 from 14 April 2017