Bulb and Ombudsman

As I mentioned, I had two cases of energy companies with Ombudsman. This is the second one finally sorted.

The other case with So.Energy was about a final bill simply using the wrong meter readings, complicated by the fact that one was an export reading. It was all sorted.

Arguably the Bulb one actually way simpler: 2 years after leaving them, and settling the final bill, they decided, via a new bill, rebelling for my previous usage, that I now owed £7k. The reason this is a "simple" case is that there is an OFGEM rule which bans charging for usage more than a year before the bill. It is a very simple rule.

It is a licence condition, and is also in the terms and conditions (it has to be).

So, a bill, out of the blue, for usage more than 2 years before, is simply not valid. The rule and and terms are simple. So I should have been able to simply point this out to them, and it be the end of the matter.

Which makes no sense really, it sort of says they cannot charge more, but they have charged more.

They even tell the Ombudsman that the back billing rules don't apply, which makes no sense. They told me on Twitter as well that the rule does not apply. This was somewhat stressful to say the least as I thought I was on solid ground here. Oddly they told the ombudsman the new bill was because of new closing readings from the new supplier, which also makes no sense as the new bill had the same closing readings as the previous bills.

So, how did it go with the Ombudsman?

Well, in the end it went well, but it was a hell of a challenge. For a start, it took a long time to get anywhere, as with the other case. I actually ended up making the complaint covering several issues: One was "this latest bill is simply invalid under back billing rules as it all for usage more than a year before", but because Bulb raised this bill I looked back, and spotted they had also previously back billed more than a year, and they had also changed the opening electricity reading to something totally made up, using 09796 not 51485, which is crazy!

The response from the Ombudsman was overly complicated, and hard to understand, instead of simply saying the latest bill is invalid, they go on about a dummy meter exchange and reissuing the bill correctly.

I basically said I could not "accept" the decision if I could not understand the decision or what it could mean financially, and they basically said until I accept the decision they cannot order Bulb to action it, and only then would they know the financial implication.

The other issue is that the response and several exchanges with the ombudsman said things like "So if Bulb revise the bill and there are unforeseen charges it needs to apply backbilling. Backbilling does not apply if you are in credit or the charges have decreased upon billing you accurately."

Obviously the idea that if there are unforeseen charges they would apply back billing was a concern. It seemed to suggest that I would be back billed for unforeseen charges.

At one point I said: "To be 100% crystal clear, accepting this decision cannot result in me owing Bulb any money at this point, as the only money they are currently asking me for is for an invalid backbilled charge two years after leaving, and any additional charges they find are too late and so cannot be backbilled now." and got the reply "Backbilling will apply if there there are unforeseen charges (increased debt)."

I exchanged dozens of messages and finally got to the bottom of it. When they say "backbilling" what they mean is "the OFGEM anti-back billing rule / licence condition". So they mean "...there are unforeseen charges it needs to apply the anti-back billing rule and not back bill you". That is essentially the exact opposite of what was actually said.

Then they suggested there could be some additional charges if the new bill to replace the £14k bill they had raised was lower, but still left me owning money (there had been a £7k credit first, hence balance being £7k now). This turned out to be because she misunderstood how long ago it was and thought some of the (revised) usage was within a year still.

It took a long time to get a clear answer to "So the worst that can happen, from my point of view, is that I still owe nothing. The best is that they owe me some." - at which point I accepted the decision.

What did Bulb do?

They harassed me by calls, emails, and in writing all the time, even after saying they would wait for the outcome of the ombudsman case they then harassed me again. It is ridiculous.

Eventually, on the last day allowed, they issued a new bill, it showed me in credit (by several thousand in fact).

I advised bank details and they sent the £150 compensation they were ordered to. Not the credit balance.

I queried, and they say any credit would be sent once the final bill was raised (which web site said would be 31st May).

I finally said I would advise the Ombudsman that the matter was not resolved unless they confirmed either no additional bill (how could there be) and paid me the balance, or confirmed the extra final bill (which I would then dispute via the Ombudsman). I was not going to wait a month.

To my surprise, and as 10 separate smaller payments all at once, they have sent me the balance.

Technically I think I could argue for more - the re-bill covers the whole period I had service, but there was a period of time in the middle of service where I did not have a bill within 12 months of usage, so they should not now be billing me for that period of time in the middle. But the whole experience of dealing with Bulb and the Ombudsman has been so much hassle, pursuing that extra bit is not worth it (I'm clearly getting old).


The irony here is I left Bulb a couple of years ago and had paid in full. I did not realise they had overcharged me, nor by how much. Had they not decided to bill me for an extra £7k, they would have got away with it.

In my defence, until Bulb, I had not had experience of such inept energy companies, and did not expect to have to check every bill in detail to look for such mistakes.

Update: Bulb then later sent a standard email saying they are compensating people an extra 20% of refunded amount, which was a nice bonus. Yes, it arrived!


  1. Just when will (a) any govenrment realise that energy companies are robbers & criminals & put a stop to their shocking behaviour & (b) the public rise up against this nonsense from the energy companies & shout NO MORE!

    It has been obvious for years that billing mistakes are NOT that they are deliberate attemtps to rob the customer!

    1. It seems far more likely this is simply massive incompetence.

    2. It could perfectly well be both. What better excuse to not bother to do your jobs properly than if you know that doing so would let you "accidentally" rob the customers blind, with a plausible excuse of total incompetence (the consequences for which land after you've had several years of big bonuses / inflated directorial salaries).

  2. My water board tried this a week short of 7 years after settling the bill after moving. My response was formal until the last sentence that ended with 'off'.

    1. "I refer you to the reply given in the case of Arkell v Pressdram."

  3. The energy industry has been a mess since the big six were allowed to effectively run it as a cartel, placing complex and punitive measures in place that hamper any company other than them trying to operate in the industry. Bulb were probably given duff readings via the MPAN database and only discovered it some time later. Problem for them
    Is if more energy was used, they still have to pay for it, regardless of timeframe, even if the people they are paying are the ones making the mistake (for example British Gas were the physical supplier and they misread the meter). Smart metering is supposed to be improving this situation.
    The legislation is designed to protect consumers AND the big six, screwing all other suppliers in the process.

  4. I have it on good authority from a friend at one of the major (renewable) energy suppliers that their billing is such a mess that they have perhaps 5-10% of customers not being billed, or being billed incorrectly, at any one time. Further, said friend works on a software/data team internally that is targeted to bill as many of those customers as possible. One assumes the misaligned incentives here result in many an incorrect bill being issued close to the deadline to start the clock for the energy company, so to speak, and get these teams off the hook. Scandalous.


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