How to complain to the UK Energy Ombudsman service

A man complains about his heating (image: Getty Images)

We all have issues with our energy supplier from time-to-time. But, if your complaint isn’t being dealt with to your satisfaction, what’s the answer? We explain all in this guide to escalating your complaint.

With energy bills rising 5% from 1 January – and expected to remain high throughout 2024 – our gas and electricity suppliers are continuing to take up a high proportion of our budgets. So, it isn’t unreasonable to expect top quality service from them.

If they fail to meet these standards, you can complain. But what happens if their response is unsatisfactory? The Energy Ombudsman is the place to go to escalate it further. If you’re eligible to use its service, the Ombudsman can force the supplier to resolve your problem.

Of course, you can also vote with your feet if you’re unhappy with the service you’re getting. Our energy comparison has all the latest deals, while we also have a guide on how to switch energy supplier. For those who are struggling to keep up with their energy bills, read our summary of all the help you can get with your energy bills.

What is the Energy Ombudsman?

The Energy Ombudsman is an independent organisation that runs the UK’s energy consumer complaints resolution process. Set up in 2002 and approved by Ofgem, it aims to settle all the disputes suppliers cannot resolve directly with their customers.

Its service is completely impartial, which means it doesn’t favour either side of a dispute during its investigations. But it does have an overarching goal to get consumers back to where they were before problems with their supplier began, and to get suppliers to better understand the needs of their customers and improve their service.

What complaints does the Energy Ombudsman deal with?

You can approach the Energy Ombudsman with complaints about energy brokers, network operators, heat networks and green deal providers. But the group you’re most likely to complain about are energy suppliers.

The types of supplier-related complaints the organisation says it sees most often include those about:

  • Gas and electricity bills
  • Smart meters and feed-in tariffs
  • Customer service
  • Problems with switching supplier
  • How an energy product or service has been sold (eg, doorstep sales tactics)
  • The supply of energy to a home.

The Ombudsman does not cover complaints about liquid petroleum gas (LPG) supply or suppliers’ commercial decisions about whether or not to provide a particular product or service.

A woman complains about her energy supplier (image: Getty Images)

How does the Energy Ombudsman process work?

Before you go to the Ombudsman, you must try to sort out your complaint directly with your supplier. They have up to eight weeks to resolve the problem you have with them. By this point, you may have switched to another supplier. But this doesn’t matter so long as you have a grievance that hasn’t been dealt with to your satisfaction and evidence to back it up.

Sometimes, if there’s no prospect of a resolution, they will send you a ‘deadlock letter’ within the eight week period which essentially kicks off the Ombudsman process sooner. To make sure you know when their eight weeks are up, take a note of the dates and times you communicated with them, who you spoke to (if doing it over the phone), and what you discussed.

If you get to the eight week deadline or a deadlock letter lands on your doormat, you can approach the Energy Ombudsman. You can register your dispute either:

You will need to provide some personal details, the name of your energy provider, and any supporting documents the organisation asks for (such as your deadlock letter). Once you’ve created a case with them, you will have 14 days to send across any relevant evidence that you believe will help your case. It’s worth noting that your supplier may still get in touch to try to resolve your complaint before the Ombudsman begins an investigation.

Once the Energy Ombudsman has all of the information it needs, it will begin investigating your complaint (so long as you haven’t already resolved it with your gas and/or electricity provider). The process takes an average of six weeks, but may take longer if your case is complicated.

The organisation has also provided a list of common reasons why it can’t investigate a complaint. These are:

  • If the consumer hasn’t given their supplier 8 weeks to resolve the dispute since the date they first complained (or they haven’t got a deadlock letter).
  • If the customer has already agreed to a resolution with their supplier.
  • If the person has gone to court with their problem.
  • If the consumer hasn’t brought the dispute to the Ombudsman within 12 months of receiving a deadlock letter.
  • If the person has never been a customer with the supplier, or is complaining about something not covered by the scheme
  • If the Ombudsman considers the complaint to be frivolous or vexatious.
  • If the complaint is already being dealt with by another resolution service.
  • If dealing with the complaint, or a complaint of its type, would seriously impair the operation of the Ombudsman.

What outcomes can the Energy Ombudsman process lead to?

After the Energy Ombudsman comes to a decision, it will let both you and your energy supplier know what it is. You can dispute its findings if you disagree with the verdict, in which case you could take your supplier to court. You should seek out legal advice if you wish to pursue this course of action.

If the Energy Ombudsman finds in your favour, it can call on your supplier to do any of the following:

  • Take practical steps (eg, credit or cancel an account, change your tariff)
  • Make an apology
  • Offer financial awards of up to £10,000
  • Reform its practices to prevent the issue from happening again
  • A combination of the above.

The Ombudsman can’t: directly punish companies, force them to change how they operate or issue fines. But the supplier is required by law to carry out its ruling within 28 days of the verdict having been delivered (so long as it has not disputed the finding). If it fails to do so, the Ombudsman will chase it and keep you informed.