Eight week and deadlock letters - best practice guide for energy suppliers

Guidance last updated March 2020

Introduction

The following guidance was agreed by the Energy Ombudsman Eight Week and Deadlock Letter Working Group initiated in December 2013.

It was updated by the Energy Ombudsman and Energy UK in 2020 to reflect the shift towards principles-based regulation, and with the aim of further improving consistency of signposting.

1. Guidance for both eight-week letters and deadlock letters

1a. Standardised text on the Energy Ombudsman

The Gas and Electricity (Consumer Complaints Handling Standards) Regulations 2008 require suppliers to provide the following information to customers on the Energy Ombudsman:

  1. that the customer has the right to refer the complaint to the Energy Ombudsman;
  2. that it is independent of the energy company;
  3. that it is free of charge;
  4. the types of redress available (an apology; an explanation of what went wrong; a practical action to be taken to correct the problem; and, a financial award); and
  5. that its decision is binding on the company but not the customer.

Suppliers should ensure that all of the above information is included in both eight-week letters and deadlock letters in a clear and prominent position. The positioning of the above information should be appropriate to the length of the letter.

1b. Personalisation, language and tone

Suppliers should apply the following principles to both letters:

  • Suppliers will make it clear how a customer can contact the Energy Ombudsman;
  • The letter should be personalised to the customer so that it is clear that it is not a mass communication;
  • It should be addressed to the customer appropriately and as an individual;
  • Suppliers will use plain and simple language;
  • Where possible and appropriate, suppliers will provide specific details of the customer’s complaint within the body of the letter, provide a detailed case update and demonstrate ownership of the customer experience;
  • The letter should make it straightforward for the customer to understand how to get back in touch with the company to discuss the complaint, for example through the provision of a complaint reference number or complaint owner and by listing clearly relevant contact details and office opening hours;
  • Supplier letters will be sufficiently formal to highlight the importance of the letter, whilst remaining accessible;
  • Any apologetic tone will be used appropriately;
  • Letters will highlight the issue and customer action appropriately, but will also be empathetic to the customer and considerate of the issues they may be facing;
  • Recognise the value of a creative approach to wording within the regulations to ensure that it fits in with the overall brand image of the company.

2. Guidance for eight-week letters

The reference to the letter being an eight-week letter should be in a prominent position. In line with the principle of the supplier having ownership of the complaint, the supplier should provide a clear statement of their position and outline options for next steps.

3. Guidance for deadlock letters

The reference to the letter being a final position or deadlock letter should be in a prominent position. There should be a clear statement of the supplier’s final position.

This statement should make it clear whether any offer from the supplier would remain on the table in the event that a customer took their complaint to the Energy Ombudsman, in order to ensure that the customer can make an informed decision on their next step.

An example of how this has been worded by one supplier is as follows (although ultimately the exact wording will be determined by the supplier):

“If you choose to go to approach the Ombudsman, the goodwill offer mentioned above will be withdrawn. This means that they can investigate your case from a neutral position and will avoid any confusion. The Ombudsman may decide that the offer should be reinstated or require a different award which may be more or less than offered by us.”

4. Eight-week letters or deadlock letters which are sent to a business defined as a micro business by the supplier, but not by Ofgem

A non-domestic consumer is defined by Ofgem as a micro-business if it meets one of the following criteria:

  1. employs fewer than 10 employees (or their full time equivalent) and has an annual turnover or balance sheet no greater than €2 million; or
  2. uses no more than 100,000 kWh of electricity per year; or
  3. uses no more than 293,000 kWh of gas per year.

Where suppliers apply micro business treatment to business customers who fall outside the accepted Ofgem definition, the eight week and deadlock letters should clearly explain to the customer how a micro business is defined, either within the body of the letter itself, or through the inclusion of the Energy Ombudsman factsheet.

It must be clear to the customer that the Energy Ombudsman will only be able to accept a case where it believes that the business meets the Ofgem criteria of a microbusiness. A case from a larger business would not be accepted unless the supplier explicitly requested the Energy Ombudsman to do so.

Appendix A

Eight Week Letter - example

Free, independent help and advice is at hand

Eight weeks have passed since you first told us about your complaint. You now have the right to refer your complaint to the Energy Ombudsman if you want to. You’ll find their details below.

The Ombudsman is there to help resolve disputes between energy suppliers and their customers. It is free for you to use their services, and they are totally independent – so they do not take sides, and make their decision based on the information available.

If you agree with their decision, we have to act on what they say. This may mean we have to issue an apology, explain what has gone wrong, correct the problem or give you a financial award. You do not have to accept their decision.

You may contact the Energy Ombudsman in any of the following ways:

How to contact the Energy Ombudsman

Website: www.ombudsman-services.org

Phone: 0330 440 1624 (phone line open 8am-8pm Monday to Friday, 9am-1pm Saturday)

Email: enquiry@ombudsman-services.org (emails are responded to within five working days)

Post: Energy Ombudsman, PO Box 966, Warrington, WA4 9DF

Deadlock Letter - example

If you want to take this matter further, you have the right to contact the Energy Ombudsman

As we cannot agree a way to resolve your complaint, I recommend you contact the Energy Ombudsman. You have up to 12 months from the date of this letter to do so. You’ll find their details below.

The Ombudsman is there to help resolve disputes between energy suppliers and their customers.

It is free for you to use their services, and they are totally independent – so they do not take sides, and make their decision based on the information available. If you agree with their decision, we have to act on what they say.

This may mean we have to issue an apology, explain what has gone wrong, correct the problem or give you a financial award. You do not have to accept their decision.

Please make sure you mention you have received this ‘deadlock’ letter when you contact them.

How to contact the Energy Ombudsman

Website: www.ombudsman-services.org

Phone: 0330 440 1624 (phone line open 8am-8pm Monday to Friday, 9am-1pm Saturday)

Email: enquiry@ombudsman-services.org (emails are responded to within five working days)

Post: Energy Ombudsman, PO Box 966, Warrington, WA4 9DF