WORRIED energy customer Sally Wells has been battling to get back £2,000 credit from her supplier.
The former veterinary nurse has been trying to get a refund since June last year from SSE.
The 48-year-old from Southampton, said: "They still owe me £2,000 in credit but the cash has been locked away and out of my reach since June last year."
Her issues started when she decided to switch from a prepayment meter to being billed quarterly, in a bid to save money.
This is because prepayment meter customers pay £60 a year on average extra, despite being some of the poorest households.
Sally had £998 in credit on her electricity meter and £997 on her gas meter.
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Initially, she requested to move her electricity account and once she had, she asked the energy giant for a refund on her credit.
Ahead of requesting the switch on gas meter, she also asked for a refund on that account.
Energy regulator Ofgem says firms should refund credit – but customers should also be careful to keep enough in their accounts to cover bills.
After two months, SSE had still not refunded the cash and Sally took her complaint to the Energy Ombudsman.
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The ombudsman ordered the firm to issue the refund and pay £250 in compensation.
Although Sally has received back the £250 – the £2,000 credit still has not been paid as SSE has challenged the ombudsman's decision, leaving her waiting for the cash.
It means Sally, who lives alone, and arthritis and chronic pain, is having to ration her energy, as she can't afford to heat her home and also keep the fish tanks for her tropical fish on.
She said: "It's turned my world upside down and I've had to keep my heating off to ensure that my animals don't suffer.
"I have fish tanks which contain 600 gallons of water and some of my fish are over 20 years old – so it's a necessity to keep these heated."
"But opting to heat my tanks over my home has had an extremely detrimental effect on my health."
Credit refunds are one of the Ombudsman's top three complaints, along with smart meters and general billing.
Around 90% of issues escalated to the organisation are upheld.
Sally hasn't requested to switch her gas meter yet as she's been trying to secure the refund before she does.
She added: "I am absolutely furious with SSE who've shown time and time again that they don't want to get involved and help sort this out."
OVO apologised to Sally for the delay, it said it has contacted her to arrange a refund for the gas meter – but it needs to agree an amount with her .
It has lodged an appeal over the electricity meter decision with the ombudsman as it believed it has not taken into account the amount of energy that has been used.
A spokesperson added: "We contacted Mrs Wells to apologise for the delay and advised that we will issue the refund once the Ombudsman makes a final decision.”
Frazer Scott, chief executive at Energy Action Scotland, said that customer credits should be safeguarded because it's the customer's money after all.
He said: "Many people have positive balances in their accounts with suppliers.
"Ovo Energy should respect the determination of the Ombudsman and return the funds due to this customer.
"It should not be dragging its feet. It simply isn’t fair."
How do I request a prepayment meter credit refund?
Customers can ask for a refund for any credits on their prepayment meters at any time, under Ofgem rules.
You can do this at any time, not just if you're switching from a prepayment meter to regular billing like Sally.
Contact your supplier and tell them how much credit you’d like them to refund you.
You'll be able to find your supplier's contact details on your bill or on their website.
Your supplier can then send you the money owed directly into your bank account.
But if your supplier says they won’t give you a refund, they must explain why.
If you're unhappy with their response make a formal complaint.
But remember, you may want to build up credit that will help pay for the more expensive winter months.
Prepayment meter customers also have to pay a "standing charge", which means that they can build up a debt on their meter without even using any energy.
How do I make a complaint?
Similar to financial services firms, energy companies have to have a complaints procedure for customers to follow.
When you make a complaint, make sure you follow this so they have the information they need to resolve the issue.
Simply explain what the problem is and what you want your supplier to do about it.
Check your energy supplier's website for an explanation on how to launch a complaint.
Energy suppliers have eight weeks to respond and come to a decision.
If it doesn't or you're not happy with the response, you can take the firm to the Energy Ombudsman.
How do I take my complaint to the Energy Ombudsman?
The Energy Ombudsman may be able to help if you have a complaint about an energy or communications provider.
Before you can submit your complaint to it, you must have logged a formal complaint with your provider and worked with the firm to resolve it.
You must also have received a so-called deadlock letter, where the provider refers your complaint to the Energy Ombudsman.
You can also complain if you haven't had a satisfactory solution to your problem within eight weeks.
The Energy Ombudsman then bases its decision on the evidence you and the company submit.
If you choose to accept its decision, your supplier then has 28 days to comply.
The Ombudsman's decisions are binding on the energy company.
If your supplier refuses to follow the instruction, the Ombudsman may get in touch with Ofgem to remedy the situation – but there's no set time period for escalating issues to the regulator and it's not up to the customer.
If an individual chooses not to accept the Ombudsman's final decision, they lose the right to the resolution offer.
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Customers still have the right to take their complaint further through the courts.
But remember this can be a costly and lengthy exercise, so it's worth thinking carefully before taking this step.
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