What is ‘back-billing’?
A back-bill is a ‘catch-up’ bill sent to you by your gas or electricity supplier when you haven’t been correctly charged for your energy use. Back-bills can be for any amount but there is a principle in place defining when and for how far back your supplier can charge you.
What is the back-billing principle?
Put simply, if your supplier is at fault, it will not seek additional payment for unbilled energy used more than 12 months prior to the error being detected and a corrected bill being issued.
When does the back-billing principle apply?
Each case is looked at on its own merits; however, the 12 month limit for back-bills may apply in these examples when your supplier has:
- Failed to bill you at all and you have requested bills from them
- Billed you using estimated meter readings instead of valid readings provided by you or a meter reader
- Billed you incorrectly by mixing up meter readings, and failed to act upon information available to put this right
- Failed to do anything about a query or fault you have raised regarding your account or meter and subsequently allowed a large debt to build up on your account
- Failed to reassess a payment arrangement (e.g. Direct Debit) within 15 months, or failed to reassess based on a reasonable estimate.
It may not apply if you:
- Have been using the gas or electricity supply but have made no attempt to contact the supplier to arrange payment. This includes moving into a property and making no attempt to let a supplier know you are the new tenant or homeowner
- Have wilfully avoided payment
- Have not co-operated with attempts to obtain meter readings or resolve queries requested by the supplier. This includes failing to allow access to the property or failing to respond to requests for meter details or meter readings.
Since 2007, Ofgem has secured a commitment from domestic energy suppliers to put a stop to customer back-billing for energy used more than 12 months ago, if the supplier was at fault for not sending a bill or billing incorrectly.
Some energy suppliers have developed their own policies to reflect the commitment. Others that are members of the energy supplier trade body, Energy UK, have developed a joint voluntary code of practice (the Energy UK Code of Practice for Accurate Bills) to ensure that their domestic customers do not suffer financially as a result of billing errors where the supplier is at fault.
If your supplier isn't applying the back-billing principle
If your supplier has said that the back-billing principle or the Energy UK Code does not apply, and you are unhappy with their decision, you should first tell them and follow their complaints process. All suppliers must have a complaint handling procedure.
Find out more on the process at Complain about your gas or electricity bill or supplier.
The Citizens Advice consumer helpline can offer help and advice on energy issues if you’re having problems.