E.ON has caused fury among UK customers by taking payments for January 11 days early from 1.5m accounts and telling those affected that they will not get a refund until after Christmas.
Hundreds of angry customers have confronted the energy company on Twitter to complain about the early direct debit, which they say threatens to plunge many “into Christmas poverty” and unplanned overdrafts.
The error could mean homes and small businesses unexpectedly paying more than £100 in the run-up to Christmas, based on the average monthly dual-fuel bill, following a year in which many have shouldered severe financial strain due to the coronavirus pandemic.
One customer tweeted: “Christmas ruined, can’t afford to pick up my pre-ordered Christmas shop today because E.ON took my direct debit early.”
Another added: “Not only will many on low incomes be starved for money now, but they’ll probably be hit with bank charges, too.”
E.ON said an “IT issue” had “inadvertently” taken direct debits from some customers but that it would not be able to refund the payment until 29 December.
The energy giant responded to the outcry on Christmas Eve, but according to its customers it was aware of the problem on Wednesday when the direct debits were taken.
“They knew about this yesterday as I contacted them due to my bank notifying me of a [direct debit] from them due today and they told me it was a system error and I was not to worry despite my reservations,” said one Twitter user.
“This will screw over so many people and on Xmas eve as well. Unforgivable,” they added.
The industry regulator, Ofgem, said it was speaking to E.ON to determine the “root cause of the issue” and will “take action as appropriate”.
“This is a distressing experience for some customers, particularly at this time of year. We understand that E.ON is working to resolve this issue, and refund customers, as soon as possible,” the regulator said.
A spokesman for E.ON apologised to customers and promised that it would reimburse any bank charges incurred as a result of this issue.
“We are sorry for this error and are taking steps to contact affected customers where we can,” a spokesman said.
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“Customers do not need to do anything or contact us, and we ask that they bear with us while we work to refund them on the first available date, which is 29 December.
“Customers’ direct debit payments will then be taken in line with their usual payment schedule. Any customer who is concerned should contact us to discuss their circumstances.”
E.ON is “running reduced [customer service] hours” from 24 December until 3 January, according to the company’s Twitter account.