185,000 homes hit by early energy bills: 'Nasty shock' for families in run-up to Christmas

Energy firm npower has billed 185,000 customers a month early, stretching already squeezed families struggling to cope with the cost of Christmas.

A huge swathe of households who pay quarterly for their energy and whose bills were due in January have instead received requests for payment in December.

Consumer groups warned that the unexpected bill demands covering power usage for November and December would come as a ‘nasty shock’ to hard-pressed families – especially amid the Big Freeze.

Feeling the heat: Customers already faced with the expense of Christmas could end up paying their fuel bills early

Feeling the heat: Customers already faced with the expense of Christmas could end up paying their fuel bills early

It is understood that those who pay quarterly by direct debit will need to contact the firm to avoid having the money taken from their account.

One customer, Sally Wisniewski, 80, who has recently recovered from a broken hip, was expecting her bill on January 5 but instead received it on December 5.

Her son Peter Wisniewski, 48, contacted npower who told him that the meter reading system was being moved forward a month and that she would have to pay the bill within the 14-day deadline.

Yesterday he said: ‘The worst thing was that there was nothing to explain what they were doing or why they were doing it. No note of any sort.

‘Fortunately I was there to sort things out for my mother on the phone and get an explanation. But if she’d been on her own, I don’t know what she would have done.

‘It could have worried her to death.’

Mrs Wisniewski, from Tibberton, Worcestershire, was not told that she had the option of refusing to pay.

Her son added: ‘We really didn’t want a bill like that just before Christmas.’

Those who have already paid the bill will face a four-month bill next quarter for January to April.

Hannah Mummery, energy expert at Consumer Focus, said: ‘These unexpected bills will be a nasty shock before Christmas for those affected.

‘Npower has admitted it made a mistake and we understand it is writing to customers to apologise.

‘The firm is giving customers the choice to pay now and get the next month of energy use added to their spring bill, or give a meter reading now and get an updated bill in January.

‘We would also expect npower to show flexibility if a customer wants to arrange an alternative payment plan.’

She added that customers should take meter readings now to ensure they get charged before npower’s price rise in January.

Earlier this month, npower announced that its customers would face a 5.1 per cent increase in their gas and electricity bills from January 4. The change will mean the typical dual-fuel customer with npower will see their annual bill rise by £54, according to the firm.

A spokesman for npower said: ‘We have been aligning our meter reading schedule with our billing dates to reduce the number of estimated bills, but the changes we made to our billing system unfortunately meant that some of our customers were incorrectly sent a “shorter” bill than usual.

‘We are aware of the situation and have written to any affected customers this week apologising for our error and advising them of the various courses of action available to them.

‘These include accepting the “short” bill on this occasion and confirming to the customer when their next bill will be issued, or the customer can contact us with a meter reading to bring their account up to date and they will then be issued with a revised bill immediately.’


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