A number of people have written to be recently (early 2007) to ask me about this dispute. I hadn't received much feedback on this before so I was intrigued to know why it was suddenly getting so many hits. It turns out the Utilita is back in the energy supply game.
It would appear that they are again trying to be the cheapest in the market. If they can pull it off then that is great but their past track record seems to indicates that when the going gets tough they will grab a few handfuls of cash off their customers and do a runner. The dispute that I have detailed below was never resolved. In the end Utilita owed us roughly £60 and after spending around 10 hours on the phone trying to get through to them I gave up (when they ran into trouble the simply put a recorded message on the phone system and dropped you into an infinite queue).
Maybe this time they will get it right may be not. Personally, I wouldn't use them if they were the last energy suppliers around and I hope I can discourage you from using them too. For those searching for information about Utilita all I can say is "Utilita Suck".
I like many people have been left wondering why we switched from our old gas and electricity supplier to Utilita as we have been ripped off and hung out to dry. I imagine a good many people are actually worse off after their switch to Utilita. Following an article on Money Saving Expert around February 2005 a large number of people, my guess would be about 3000, switched to Utilita. In December 2005 Utilita announced that they could no longer afford to be in the energy market due to high wholesale prices and sold it's customer base to EDF Energy.
So far the story is fairly clean and simple. One company that feels it can no longer afford to be in a market place transfers it's customers to someone who feels they can make a profit and shuts down operations. This would be fine apart from the fact it isn't quite that simple. Utilita have, perhaps lawfully perhaps unlawfully, grabbed a bunch of money off their clients and done a runner.
Back in February 2005 Utilita got it's 15 minutes of fame by offering an almost to good to be true offer. Their gas and electricity supply prices would be, at a maximum, the same as your standard local supplier and generally a fair bit lower. On top of that you would earn points over the course of a year which you could, on each anniversary of your sign up, convert into either energy saving credits, which could buy energy saving products, or a 10% rebate. Of course everyone in their right mind would go for the rebate as it would amount to some £50 or so for most people and the energy saving products weren't that good anyway.
I would estimate that Utilita signed up around 3000 new customers in it's 15 minutes of fame. I don't know this for sure but they were basically unknown before the MSE article and they sold some 4000 accounts to EDF Energy.
The problem I, and many of Utilitas customers, have with Utilita is the timing of the transfer. For most customers I imagine the transfer comes roughly a month or two before they are due to claim their rebate. If we had known before signing up that Utilita would pull out of the market just before paying the rebate we could have signed up for a cheaper deal with an alternative supplier. The second problem with the timing is that roughly two weeks before selling the accounts Utilita levied a £40 surcharge on all it's customers to cover higher fuel prices. I received the letter telling me about the surcharge on the 28 November 2005 with the charge being levied on the 5th December 2005. The letter telling me the account would be sold is dated the 6th December 2005.
The fact that they chose to sell the accounts just before paying the rebate is bad enough but the surcharge is a blatant grab for it's customers money just before going belly up. To add insult to injury our account is probably substantially in credit as an interim statement ending on the 31st October shows us to be £230.84 in credit. To date (it's 24th January 2006) we have yet to receive a final statement from Utilita.
The Fight for Our Money
24 January 2006
In order to get the money Utilita surely owe us back the first thing I have done is gather together all the paper work that I can find from Utilita and organise it. I have also cancelled the Direct Debit and printed out a list of payments. Most of the payments look fairly normal, £38 coming out on roughly the 17th of the month, until 2nd November 2005 when there is a payment of £11.55 then on the 17th November 2005 there is a £43.70 payment. This pattern is repeated on the 2nd and 19th of December 2005. Total payments made to Utilita a £414.50.
The £11.55 payments are the start of 4 monthly catch up payments brought in on the 7th September 2005 which according to the letter should start on the 1st November 2005 (I'll let them off one day). The chance from £38 / month to £43.70 / month is to cover the overall higher energy cost.
It would appear therefore that the £40 surcharge that was meant to be added to the December statement has not been taken. Now it is time to find out the balance of our account and where the final statement has got to.
One quick phone call to Utilita later....
The final statement is “coming” and should be with us by the end of January 2006. I'm going to wait and find out what the balance from the final statement as it is only a maximum of 7 days to wait.
The surcharge has deliberately not been taken from the account and Utilita claim that there surcharge was applied lawfully and that they are working with the regulating bodies. This is somewhat in contradiction with Energy Watch who claim Utilita refused to deal with them in a friendly dispute resolution. There will, apparently, be a surcharge dispute form in with the final statement which will be “taken into consideration”. We won't be paying the surcharge if we can get away with not doing so. I can't help feeling it will have been applied to the final statement and taken from our positive balance.
The 10% rebate is as good as gone. That one was fairly tightly worded in the agreement so I doubt we will ever see that. I might write to them but others that have tried have hit a stone wall.