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

Guidance last updated July 2019

Introduction

Energy suppliers often ask us to work with them to help ensure their alternative dispute resolution (ADR) signposting letters are clear and effective.

This guidance, a more detailed version of which can be found on the Ofgem website, sets out what we and other industry stakeholders consider to be best practice.

Guidance for both eight-week letters and deadlock letters

Standard text on Ombudsman Services.

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

  1. that the customer has the right to refer the complaint to Ombudsman Services;
  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 include all of the above information in both eight-week letters and deadlock letters.

Personalisation

All letters should address the customer personally (eg ‘Mr Smith’) rather than impersonally (eg Dear Customer). Where possible and appropriate, we also recommend:

  1. Using the first-person singular;
  2. Providing specific details of the customer’s complaint within the body of the letter;
  3. Providing a detailed case update; and
  4. Including the name of the ‘complaint owner’ within your company.

Language

It is best practice to avoid using the following terms within eight week or deadlock letters:

  1. Binding
  2. Exhausted
  3. Remedy
  4. Redress or Redress Scheme
  5. Abide
  6. Oblige
  7. Constitutes

Tone

Eight week and deadlock letters should be sufficiently formal to highlight the importance of the letter, whilst remaining accessible.

Letters should highlight the issue and customer action, but also be empathetic to the customer and considerate of the issues they may be facing.

Any apologetic tone should be used appropriately.

What to include in eight-week letters

We recommend including the following in eight-week letters:

  1. An apology – this should be as concise and as personalised as possible.
  2. The purpose of the letter – this could include an update on the progress of the complaint.
  3. The words ‘eight weeks’ or ‘eight week’ – these words should appear within the first three paragraphs of the letter.
  4. Information on Ombudsman Services: Energy and how to escalate a complaint to us – see Appendix A for more information.

The above format is flexible in terms of order, or where suppliers choose to merge two or more paragraphs into one.

Where the supplier sends this communication via email, a link to the Ombudsman Services website should be included in the same email.

What to include in deadlock letters

We recommend including the following in deadlock letters:

  1. An apology – this should be as concise and as personalised as possible.
  2. The purpose of the letter – this could include an update on the progress of the complaint.
  3. The words ‘final position’ – these words should appear within the first three paragraphs of the letter.
  4. An explanation to the customer that the ‘final position’ letter can also be known as a ‘deadlock letter’.
  5. Information on Ombudsman Services: Energy and how to escalate a complaint to us – see Appendix A for more information.

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, eight-week letters and deadlock letters should clearly explain to the customer how a micro-business is defined.

Appendix A

Eight Week Letter

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 Ombudsman Services: Energy 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 to use their services, and they are totally independent – so they do not take sides, and make their decision based only on the information available. If you agree with their decision, we have to act on what they say. This may mean we have to apologise, 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’ve received this ‘eight-week’ letter when you contact them.

How to contact Ombudsman Services

Website: www.ombudsman-services.org

Phone: 0330 440 1624

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

Deadlock Letter

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 Ombudsman Services: Energy. 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 to use their services, and they are totally independent – so they do not take sides, and make their decision based only on the information available. If you agree with their decision, we have to act on what they say. This may mean we have to apologise, 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 Ombudsman Services

Website: www.ombudsman-services.org

Phone: 0330 440 1624

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