I get so many calls on this front that sometimes I hear myself sounding like a broken record on the phone. ("Oh my yes, I've heard of that one. Oh dear, that much huh? Crikey, no you can't do that, it's illegal.")
So it was that, when my pre-Christmas anonymous retailer rang to complain about his British Gas increases, I couldn't really help beyond recommending complaining to EnergyWatch. In August 2006 he was owed more than £1,000 in credit, which he got back. Then he got a letter a year later saying 'you owe us £2,000', so he reckons his tariff must have gone up by £3,000.
Apparently, EnergyWatch has told him they can do nothing.
It seems to me that many of the energy companies have embraced 'deregulation' with gusto, but by no means in a good way.
Here's a 'fairy story' that the Telegraph Business Club sent me: "The electricity supply contract for your business will expire in two weeks' time. We have put our prices up by much more than the average in the past year and your business will be paying a lot more in the next 12 months. It's probably a good idea to shop around."
Then it adds: "As you've probably guessed, that is an imaginary contract renewal letter. In reality, the messages about price increases tend to be hidden. Such letters are often sent many months in advance so you put it to one side in the forlorn hope you will deal with it later. Or in some cases it is sent so it arrives just days before the current contract expires. And, of course, renewal at the new (higher) price tends to be automatic if you do not respond quickly.
"This is called an Assumptive Renewal (contract rollover). There are several price comparison sites available for consumers to check out rival offerings for electricity, gas, telecoms and so on. But business contracts are more complex, so they have been largely ignored."
Again, I can only agree, but I still encourage everyone stuck with mysterious increases to contact EnergyWatch. Because, as is always the case with such apparent injustices, if enough people complain enough times over a long enough period of time, there is always the possibility that practices such as Assumptive Renewal will be formally reviewed and perhaps subject to change, or even some form of legislation.