BRITISH Gas has paid back £1.48million to thousands of pre-payment customers after it failed to properly notify them about a switch in provider.
The change caused chaos for some households who were left without gas and electricity as temperatures plummeted.
The change saw British Gas switch from Paypoint to Payzone on January 1, slashing the number of places where people can top up their credit by 14,000.
Some customers complained they couldn’t find a Payzone location nearby or the terminal was not yet set up for British Gas payments.
Others were given insufficient time to make alternative arrangements if they were unhappy with the change.
British Gas failed to properly notify around 270,000 prepayment households about the switch.
British Gas told most of its customers about the change in top-up provider in December 2019 – but the energy watchdog says this didn’t give households enough time to switch.
This notice also only contained website links, rather than telephone numbers, meaning anyone without internet access may have struggled to contact British Gas.
Additionally, British Gas chose not to operate its general enquiries line on January 1, 2020 – the go-live date.
Some customers didn’t hear from the energy giant until late January 2020.
In a separate change, British Gas pushed up minimum energy meter top-ups from £1 to £5 – although it reversed this in February 2020 following backlash from customers.
Roughly 5.9million Brits have a pre-payment energy meter, according to uSwitch, which requires customers to buy credit and add it to their account before they can use it.
British Gas told The Sun that the refunds have already been paid to customers.
Based on the amount it paid back, and the number of households affected, customers would have received around £5.48 back on average.
However, British Gas said the amounts will vary depending on how many issues each customer faced – this means some homes may have received more or less than this.
We’ve asked if customers received the refund automatically, or if they had to apply, and we’ll update this article when we know more.
British Gas is also paying an additional £250,000 into the energy redress fund, set up by the Energy Savings Trust.
This fund supports customers in vulnerable situations, as well as the development of new products and services.
A British Gas spokesperson said: “We chose to move our prepayment top up service to Payzone as we believe they offer the best and most flexible service for our customers and will add more outlets where our customers need them.
“We recognise that this transition was not as smooth as it should have been and we would like to apologise again to any customer impacted.
“We know that some prepayment customers are vulnerable and we take our responsibilities to them very seriously.”
Philippa Pickford, director of retail at Ofgem said: “When such a fundamental change is being made, such as where meters can be topped up, energy suppliers need to communicate with their customers in plenty of time.
“British Gas should have informed all of their prepayment customers, many whom are in vulnerable situations, of the change to how to top-up their meters during the winter period.
“Some customers were unaware of the change before it happened and may have struggled to contact British Gas as they opted not to open their general enquiries line on the go live date.”
Will Owen, energy expert at Uswitch.com, said: “British Gas’s failure to communicate its changes properly affected hundreds of thousands of prepayment customers and caused problems for a group that includes vulnerable people.
“While suppliers endeavour to support their vulnerable customers, in this instance these errors were exacerbated as they took place at one of the coldest times of the year and potentially left customers without any energy supply.”
Meanwhile, Bulb Energy paid out £1.76million in refunds after overcharging and wrongly switching thousands of customers.
Three energy companies will pay out £10.5million after more than one million customers were left without power.
It’s estimated energy bills have soared by £32 a month during the coronavirus lockdown.