Energy companies owe a combined £6.7bn to 16 million households after increasing customers’ direct debits in reaction to energy price rises.
Customer credit is overall £5bn higher than last year with a mild winter and households’ concerted efforts to cut back on heating also playing a role.
Half of those in credit (49%) have balances over £200, according to price comparison website Uswitch. The research also reveals Norwich has the most debt (59% of the city) with an average credit of £348 per home, while Plymouth residents have the highest energy credit in the country with the average household owed £603.
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As direct debits to suppliers have increased, the number of households in debt has fallen from six million to four million. The total amount of debt also dropped from £1.2bn to 920m.
Half of homes in credit (53%) are planning to leave cash with their supplier as a financial buffer while half (54%) don’t know how to reclaim credit.
Richard Neudegg, director of regulation at Uswitch.com, said: “Normally we’d expect to see people exit winter with little or no credit balances, but a substantial number of households have weathered the storm, leaving suppliers sitting on nearly £7 billion.”
The research also raises questions about whether direct debits were “much higher than they needed to be”, he added.
There’s been concern about how some energy companies will use customer credit after plans to automatically refund credit balances annually and limit the size of customers' balances from the energy regulator Ofgem were scrapped in November.
Ofgem boss Jonathan Brearley has previously described the surplus money akin to being used 'like an interest-free credit card'.
How to get an energy credit refund
Energy firms may automatically refund any money owed at the end of the year or reduce your future direct debit.
But if they do not, and as energy firms aren’t transparent about how they are using customer credit which may not sit right with you, you can ask for a refund.
Regulator Ofgem says you can ask for a refund at any time and that your request should be processed 'promptly'.
But, make sure you check your account balance online or over the phone first.
You’ll then need to say how much credit you would like refunded. Be ready to give an up-to-date meter reading.
You might have to be persistent. Suppliers were last year found to have unfairly raised some customers’ direct debits astronomically high. Guy Anker, from our sister site The Money Edit, had to be pushy when his energy company almost tripled his monthly payment.
Your energy supplier can refuse you a refund but must provide a good reason, for example, you have only a small amount of credit.
Cities where customers are most in credit
|City||Average credit owed||% of city in credit|
Katie Binns is an award-winning journalist, and former Sunday Times writer where she spent 10 years covering news, culture, travel, personal finance and celebrity interviews. She has also written for the Times, Telegraph, i paper and Woman and Home magazine.
Her investigative work on financial abuse has examined the response of banks, the Financial Ombudsman and the child maintenance service to victims, and resulted in a number of debt and mortgage prisoners being set free.
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