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Outfox the Market customers vent fury over energy bill hikes

Hundreds of customers of the small energy supplier Outfox the Market have banded together on Facebook to tell of their nightmare with the supplier. 

Update Monday 4 March 2019: Outfox the Market has announced it will no longer charge seasonal direct debits to any customers. 

In recent months, Outfox the Market has made a spate of changes to both prices and payments – leaving virtually all of its customers facing significantly higher costs.

We've always had a warning on our Cheap Energy Club about switching to Outfox the Market – firstly because it was new, so we had little feedback, and more recently because of its massive direct debit hikes. But today, now the negative feedback is clearly evident, we've gone even further and are effectively warning against switching to it altogether.

Here are some of the issues which have angered customers:

  • Monthly direct debits have been hiked by an average of 40% over the winter period.

  • Outfox the Market has announced FOUR separate price hikes within six months.

  • Some customers have struggled to get in contact with Outfox the Market to question or challenge the hike, with reports of calls taking more than an hour.

  • There have also been claims some switches away from the firm have been blocked and that cancelled direct debit payments have been reinstated – though in most cases unhappy customers have been able to switch away without any problems. Outfox the Market says switches should only be blocked if there is outstanding debt on the account older than 28 days, and says direct debit issues are the result of "genuine system error".

If you're with Outfox the Market, you can switch now without paying any exit fees. Use our free Cheap Energy Club to see how much you can save.

'Bill hikes clearly creating unacceptable hardship' deputy editor Guy Anker said: "Outfox's bill hikes are clearly creating unacceptable hardship for many, but most can ditch and switch to a cheaper tariff penalty-free. If you can, you'll not only escape the direct debit hikes but you'll get on a better deal, so it's a double win.

"We've always warned about switching to Outfox on our Cheap Energy Club, initially with the fact it was new so we had very little feedback, and more recently by warning of the massive direct debit hikes. But today, now the negative feedback is clearly evident, we've gone even further and effectively warned against switching to it altogether. We will continue to follow and cover this important issue.

"While we make no money from people switching to Outfox, as our Cheap Energy Club is a whole of market comparison, by definition we list all companies that are allowed to trade by regulator Ofgem, though with warnings where appropriate.

"MoneySavingExpert founder Martin Lewis has also warned that it's been far too easy for smaller suppliers to get a licence and we welcome the fact Ofgem will impose tougher criteria for firms to demonstrate they are fit to sell energy tariffs next year."

How Outfox the Market customers are fighting back

Outfox the Market customers who are unhappy with the changes have started campaigning against the firm in recent days. We've seen dozens of complaints on social media and email, and on Facebook a group called Outfox the Market Discussion has attracted around 550 members, and claims to be adding around 70 a day.

An open letter sent by many members of the group to MoneySavingExpert and other media outlets today complains that "direct debit payments have been increased by over 300% leaving customers facing unexpected large bills with only 10 days' notice".

It says that "communication has been garbled", "phone lines remained jammed" and "emails remain unanswered for weeks".

The letter also claims switches are being blocked by Outfox the Market, and that some customers have seen direct debits reinstated without their permission. We've not seen independent confirmation of this, but have urgently asked Outfox the Market for a response.

How to challenge the direct debit hike

You're free to challenge the direct debit increase. Suppliers are required by the regulator Ofgem to set "fair and reasonable" direct debits – see our Energy Direct Debits guide for more.

Outfox the Market says if customers believe their new direct debit amount is too high, they can contact it, and it will use a recent meter reading plus your estimated annual consumption to review it. It also says if a customer has enough credit to cover expected winter bills, they can get a refund and direct debit reduction.

If you still disagree with the amounts, you can lodge an official complaint – see How to complain about your energy provider for more.

On the issue of reinstating cancelled direct debits, Outfox the Market told us: "There can be a delay in the system picking up a cancellation of a direct debit and because we have sent a number of direct debit notices, the second notification is sent before we receive the cancellation notice. This evidently is not ideal, and whilst this is a genuine system error, we can appreciate it can be worrying and we apologise for this."

Still unhappy? Most can ditch and switch penalty-free

Most Outfox the Market customers are on variable tariffs with no exit fees. So if you're unhappy with the changes, you can do a full comparison on Cheap Energy Club to see if you can find a better deal – and if so, switch away penalty-free.

If you're one of the small number of Outfox the Market customers on a fixed deal, you should also be able to switch without paying the exit fees – Outfox the Market's confirmed again today that penalty charges will be waived.

Outfox the Market is only allowed to block a switch if there's been debt on the account for more than 28 days. If it does block it unfairly, make a formal complaint. It then has eight weeks to resolve the query to your satisfaction before you can escalate the issue to the Energy Ombudsman. See How to complain to your energy provider for more.

On the reports it has been objecting to switches, Outfox the Market told us: "We will always do our best to make your switch away as smooth as possible. We will only object to you leaving if there is an outstanding debt on your account that is older than 28 days. If this is the case, we will just need you to clear the balance and your new supplier can reapply for the switch."

What does Outfox the Market say?

Outfox the Market chief executive Keith Bastian said: "In line with our policy to continually provide cheaper energy prices, we have introduced some changes in recent weeks to ensure all our customers pay a fair amount for their energy. Our new direct debit policy simply means customers pay more in the winter months and less in the summer. In essence, paying for energy as they use it."

"Wholesale prices have continued to increase throughout 2018 and like the vast majority of suppliers, we have been forced to increase our prices. However, moving forward, the changes we are making will mean customers will soon be able to benefit from cheaper energy without paying the premiums many other companies charge.

"We are experiencing higher volumes of customer contact at the moment and wait times are longer than usual. We are sorry for this, but we are working hard to respond to all our customers. We have teams on live chat, telephone and email, all dedicated to helping our valued customers.

"For customers who feel these changes do not suit them, we are happy to discuss alternatives and have waived all exit fees for customers wishing to leave."

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