ENERGY customers are being urged to check their bills as it has emerged that at least four major suppliers have hiked direct debits again.
Customers of Ovo, Scottish Power, British Gas and Bulb Energy have taken to social media to complain of crippling bill hikes.
It comes as analysts have warned that energy bills could hit £5,300 next year.
Energy regulator Ofgem will announce on August 26 what the energy price cap will increase to this autumn. The change will come into effect on October 1.
But experts have warned that some firms are already hiking bills in anticipation of the increase.
And a number of customers are complaining of unfair energy bill hikes, reporting on social media that their direct debit has been increased fourfold, or their monthly payment has gone up even though they are in credit.
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Ofgem said it cannot comment on individual cases, but any customer who believes their direct debit is incorrect should contact their supplier and, where necessary, complain.
Jonathan Brearley, chief executive at Ofgem, said: “Suppliers must do all they can, especially during the current gas crisis, to support customers and to recognise the significant worry and concern increased direct debits can cause."
In a recent industry review, British Gas was one of the suppliers with which Ofgem found "no significant issues" relating to direct debits.
But The Sun has spotted a number of customers raising issues about their bills on social media.
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One British Gas customer said on Twitter that their direct debit was doubled last month, despite the fact that they were £400 in credit.
Another said their elderly mum's bill had been increased by British Gas from £169 a month to £896.
Similarly, one tweet described an 85-year-old widow who lives alone, and has seen her bill increase from £270 a month to £604.
Another customer said: "I received my latest statement, I'm in sufficient credit based on my current payments and you've increased my payment by £45 a month without my permission.
"The app will not let me decrease it back. Please can you change it back? I don't need to pay that much."
A British Gas spokesperson said: "We'd urged anyone concerned about their direct debit payments to get in touch.
"We also have our £6million British Gas energy support fund, which has been set up in response to the increasing cost of living and rising inflation."
A number of providers have hardship funds like these available to help those in energy debt. British gas offers grants of between £250 and £750 to help with energy bills.
One customer accused Bulb of sending text messages over their bills after they had cancelled their direct debit because they were £300 in credit.
Another Bulb customer tweeted: "We're over £100 in credit yet you're still saying we need to put up our monthly payments?"
Bulb, which has around 1.7million customers, fell into administration last year and is currently being run by the government through Ofgem.
Bulb said it regularly reviews customer accounts to make sure their payments cover their energy usage, and that they aren't paying too much or too little.
It said customers can log into their account to review their payment and reduce it if they wish.
Bulb aims to keep direct debits the same throughout the year by working out their annual usage and dividing it by 12.
An Ovo customer said their direct debit had almost tripled from £118 to £340. They tweeted: "No thank you please. We shall start paying for what we use every month now #CostOfLivingCrisis."
Another tweeted: "OvoEnergy doubling my direct debit per month without my permission. What a joke."
And one outraged customer said their direct debit had been raised from £200 a month to £644 – equivalent to £7,720 a year.
The Sun has contacted Ovo for comment.
Scottish Power was another firm found to have no major issues with its direct debits by the regulator.
But one Scottish Power customer said their bill had quadrupled.
They tweeted: "My DD is going from £76 to £301 a month!! I'm struggling as it is, I don't have an extra £230 per month. Something needs to be done!"
Scottish Power said it regularly reviewed customer direct debits to ensure their payments are spread evenly and take into account expected use through the year.
It said customers can manage their own direct debit level with its tool.
Why are bills going up already?
Experts have warned that some firms will start hiking bills ahead of the new price cap. The idea is that this way customers should not get a shock rise in the autumn.
Consumer expert Martyn James, a member of The Sun's Squeeze Team, said: "The price cap is rising at such a dramatic rate that if people don't increase their payments now, they are likely to be hit with a huge increase in October."
"There's a good argument for allowing your direct debits to increase if you can afford to, so you don't find yourself in debt when the big price rise happens in a few weeks."
But the current customer complaints come just weeks after energy regulator Ofgem ordered firms that had increased customer direct debits by more than 100% to urgently review their bills.
Six out of 17 suppliers were named as having the greatest issues in its report, including Ecotricity, Good Energy, Green Energy UK and Utilita Energy, TruEnergy and UK Energy Incubator Hub (EKEIH).
The regulator said it had found "minor weaknesses" in processes at a number of firms, and reported "no significant issues" at four suppliers: British Gas, EDF, Scottish Power and SO Energy.
What to do if you think your energy bill is wrong
A direct debit increase does not automatically mean that your bill is wrong.
If you've recently come off of a fixed energy tariff, for example, then unfortunately you'll notice your bill has soared.
That's because the energy price cap was gone up from £1,138 a year ago, to £1971 today. It is expected to reach more than £3,000 at the next change in October.
If you do think your bill is wrong though, the best first step is to take a meter reading (and to provide one to your supplier every month).
This way your bill will be based on your actual usage, rather than an estimate.
It's worth bearing in mind that suppliers "smooth" bills so you pay the same monthly amount all year, even if you barely use anything in the summer months – this is to avoid a shock bill in the winter when usage ramps up.
This means you might have credit on your account in the summer months. You are entitled to request this back if you want, or you could use it to negotiate a lower monthly payment.
A direct debit amount should be "fair and reasonable" – if you don't believe it is, complain to your energy provider and follow its complaints procedure – it should explain how its calculated your bill.
If you're not happy with the outcome, you can go to the Energy Ombudsman to dispute your bill.
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Charities like Citizens Advice have template complaints letters you can use to help with the process.
If you're struggling with your bill – speak to your supplier, It should work with you to come up with an affordable payment plan or may signpost you to grants and support.
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