This guide will help you understand if you are owed money on your energy bill. It shows you ways that you might end up being in ‘credit’ to your energy supplier, and ways to get that money back if you are owed a refund.
'Live' account balances
A ‘live’ account balance is how much credit or debt you have on your account with your current energy supplier.
A debt balance is where you owe the energy supplier as the energy you have used since your last bill is more than you have paid them. A credit balance is the reverse, where since your last bill you have paid more to your supplier than the energy you have used.
Live account balances rise for four main reasons:
1. You use less energy than you pay for
When you open an account with your supplier, they will estimate your annual energy consumption. If this does not reflect your actual consumption, and you end up consuming less energy than the estimate your payment scheme is based on, you may build up credit.
Credit can also build up if you don’t give your supplier regular meter readings. Without regular readings, your supplier can only estimate how much energy you are using. Providing regular readings will also help reduce the risk of an unexpected bill if suppliers have underestimated your usage and you end up using more energy than your direct debit payments.
2. You pay the same amount even though your consumption changes
If you pay for your energy with a fixed direct debit amount, the amount you pay is based on an estimate of how much energy you consume each year. Because you use different amounts throughout the year – less gas in summer when the weather is warmer – your monthly payments are unlikely to match the cost of the energy you have used in that month. This means that you may be paying for more energy than you use in summer, and so build up credit on your account. This credit would reduce through the winter, when you consume more energy each month than you are paying for through your direct debit payment.
3. Different suppliers behave in different ways
Suppliers may take payments at different times of the billing period. For example, they may take a payment at the start of the month and send a bill at the end of the month, or take payment at the same time as they send a bill.
Some suppliers only calculate and send bills on a quarterly basis, but if you have a monthly direct debit payment, you would make three payments before your supplier calculates and sends you your bill. If your supplier takes payment before calculating your consumption for the period and sends a bill, you may have credit that remains on your account.
Some suppliers have payment terms where you pay an extra month’s payment at the start of the contract, to maintain a credit balance. In those situations you will end up paying for your energy before you’ve actually used it.
4. Payment method
If you are paying by ‘Standard Credit’, where you pay for each period after getting a bill, you may build up credit through overpayments. This is because your bill is based on an estimate of your consumption. If you are a pre-payment meter customer, your meter balance is viewed as a ‘credit’ until it’s used.
Although credit balances may build up for the reasons above, we’d expect them to peak at the end of the summer and fall at the end of the winter. This is because people tend to consume more energy in winter and less in summer, but pay the same amount each month.
That means anyone with an average credit balance level, who’s on a fixed-term payment plan, would see their balance smooth across the seasonal peaks and dips.
However, while the above trend remains the same, whether your own account balance is in credit or debit will also be affected by when you signed your contract with your energy supplier. For example, if you signed a contract at the start of winter and paid by direct debit, your account might be in debt for most or all of the year as you will be using more energy than you are paying for in the winter through your direct debit payment and then in the summer. Alternatively, if you signed up at the start of summer, then your account may be in credit for most or all of the year.
The use of estimated readings for bills and the setting of direct debit payments will also affect whether you have a credit account balance.
- When switching supplier, have a copy of a recent bill to hand, so you can give them accurate consumption information on which to base your estimated bills and direct debit payments.
- Avoid building up credit balances on your account by giving your energy supplier regular meter readings. You can also contact your supplier and ask them to review your payment scheme in line with your estimated annual consumption.
- Ask your supplier to replace your existing meter with a smart meter. Smart meters send meter readings automatically to suppliers so you can have accurate bills, removing one of the key reasons why credit balances can build up. For more information, see Understand smart and other energy meters.
- Read your energy bills when you get them so you’re aware of your consumption, payments, and any credits you’ve built up. You can also contact your energy supplier to find out if you have a credit balance.
- If you’re concerned about the size of your balance, you can ask your energy supplier to refund it to you. Suppliers must do so promptly, unless there are reasonable grounds not to.
The largest suppliers typically review current customers’ accounts on a yearly basis and automatically refund credit balances (based on an actual meter read). See our direct debit factsheet for further details, or contact your supplier for their most current direct debit practices.
Our advice is to regularly check your energy bills, especially to see if you have a balance outstanding at the end of spring.
How to claim
To claim back money you think you’re owed, contact your supplier. You can find your supplier’s contact details on your energy bill. If you aren’t sure who your supplier is, see Who is my gas or electricity supplier?
'Closed' account balances
A closed account balance is money that your old energy supplier owes you after you’ve closed your account. It is typically:
- a credit that remains after you’ve switched supplier or moved house (regardless of whether you’re still with the same supplier)
- unclaimed credit left in an account when closing the estate of a dead relative.
A ‘credit ‘may result from many things, including if you had a fixed direct debit amount and a ‘live’ account balance when you closed your account (see ‘How do live account balances build up?’ above).
If you have a credit once you’ve closed your account, suppliers must take steps to return this money to you.
When closing your account:
1. Provide a final meter reading
Make sure you provide a final meter reading to your supplier before you move house or switch supplier.
2. Check your final bill
If you were a direct debit customer or paid by cash, card or cheque, you’ll have a final bill. This will show if you have money owing to you and how much.
3. Contact your supplier
Check your supplier’s policy on how to request a refund and/or contact them directly if you need further information.
If you think you are owed money from an account closed some time ago, contact your old energy supplier with the details of that account. You can find your old supplier’s contact details on an old energy bill.
The Citizens Advice consumer helpline can offer help and advice at any time if you’re having problems claiming back credit you are owed.