Ofgem warning after Sir Grayson Perry energy bill saga

PA Media Grayson Perry looking at the camera wearing a hat in front of an artwork, taken in 2020PA Media

Energy regulator Ofgem says suppliers must be accurate with bills and deal quickly with mistakes, following a row involving artist Sir Grayson Perry.

The Turner Prize-winning artist criticised EDF after receiving a stack of bills that added up to £39,000.

The company said that problems with bills could happen occasionally, but there were no fundamental, broader issues with how its system was working.

Ofgem said it would not hesitate to act if any suppliers were breaking rules.

In a statement to the BBC, the regulator said “We have spoken to EDF today and instructed them to check and confirm this isn’t a wider systemic issue and report back to us urgently. We have also asked what steps they will take to prevent any future errors of this kind.”

Ofgem went on to say it was vital that suppliers did not make mistakes of this kind, acknowledging a bill of this size, whilst clearly an error, can be distressing for customers.

Regular direct debit payments must be based on “the best and most current information available”, according to suppliers’ licence conditions.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Sir Grayson said that he had “out of the blue” received about 15 bills from EDF and was told they would deduct the money by direct debit for all of those bills on the same day.

“I just thought it was so bizarre. I spent about three hours at least trying to get some sense out of a call centre, but you’re talking to a computer really, so it was very frustrating,” he said.

“They just would sort of say, ‘well it says £39,000 – that’s how much we’re going to take.'”

He said the saga was an “interesting fable of the technological age”, with a smart meter being installed at his country studio several years ago despite him warning there was no phone signal at the address.


EDF said “unusual” direct debit changes could occur when incorrect meter readings were recorded on its system.

On average, it answers customer service calls within four minutes, and the company said that there was no wider, systematic problem.

“We know problems can sometimes occur for a variety of reasons and we apologise to customers who experience difficulties,” a company spokesman said.

“When this happens, we look to put things right as quickly as possible. There is no broader issue with our systems and our direct debit processes continue to work as normal.”

The company, which has 3.5 million customers, said it was in the process of moving residential and small business customers to a new customer service system, which was operating well.

Some customers reacted to Sir Grayson’s situation by outlining their own issues on social media.

Other companies have suffered similar problems in the past. In May, Ovo apologised for “shortfalls in service” after customers were hit with bills of up to £116,000 for a month’s energy.

Customers said their energy usage had been miscalculated after transferring to Ovo or after having a smart meter installed.

In an earlier statement, an Ofgem spokesman said the regulator had taken action on inaccurate direct debits.

“We have strengthened the rules around direct debits and earlier this year, we told suppliers to look at processes around them, which resulted in 900,000 customers having their payments reviewed and adjustments made for miscalculations,” he said.

In recent years, millions of people have struggled to pay actual, correctly calculated bills owing to rising prices. Charities say that many have been forced to borrow money to pay essential bills.

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