Chased by debt firms for British Gas and E.on bills you don't owe? Here's step-by-step help on how to get 'em off your back
Hundreds of people say they've been wrongly sent letters by a debt collector on behalf of energy firms including British Gas and E.on, asking for payment of unpaid bills. But DON'T ignore these letters even if you don't owe the cash – we'll take you through step-by-step help on what to do if you get one.
MoneySavingExpert.com (MSE) has seen hundreds of complaints online and spoken to several people who have received letters saying they owe unpaid debts to British Gas and E.on – despite some saying they weren't even customers of the suppliers at the time.
Debt recovery law firm BW Legal has sent the letters on behalf of debt purchaser, PRAC Financial. Both British Gas and E.on have confirmed to MSE that energy debts have been sold to PRAC Financial. BW Legal added that it takes steps to "trace and verify" people before writing to them, though it wouldn't confirm how many former British Gas and E.on customers it's contacted.
Regulators the Information Commissioner's Office and the Solicitors' Regulation Authority say they have received complaints about BW Legal's practices – though they wouldn't confirm or deny if it's broken any rules.
See our Debt problems guide for what to do and where to get help if you're having money problems.
'I wonder how many elderly people have been scared into paying'
Thomas Standley's girlfriend, who is 27 and from Lincoln, received a letter from BW Legal claiming she owed £146 for an unpaid bill relating to E.on. But she never held an account with E.on, her sister did, and both had moved out of the property before the time period they supposedly owed money for.
Thomas, also 27, told MSE: "My girlfriend was about to call them and pay because she didn't want it to impact her credit file. I just wonder how many old people out there have been scared into paying?"
The debt related to the period 22 March 2021 to 6 May 2021, when neither Thomas's girlfriend nor her sister lived at the property. The pair had moved out on 19 March 2021, having paid their final bill and closed their E.on account. After they contacted BW Legal and proved the debt wasn't theirs, BW Legal agreed it would not pursue the debt any further.
An E.on spokesperson said: "We have legitimately passed BW Legal the relevant property details and it has undertaken its own checks to identify people who it believes owe the debt."
Don't ignore letters
Don't do anything with the letters and it could have an impact on your credit score. If your credit report is marked with outstanding debts, it may affect your ability to take out credit in future.
If you don't owe the money, tell the legal firm
First, you should contact the firm in question if you don't owe the money.
In this example, you can contact BW Legal on 0113 487 0430 or by emailing email@example.com. You can also get in touch via its webchat service at www.bwlegal.co.uk.
You may need to provide proof, such as letters confirming when you lived at the property, and, if you held an account with the energy firm, proof from it that you don't owe any debt, or documents showing you were a customer at a different firm at the time.
Based on the case studies we've spoken to and the reports we've seen, this does usually then lead to BW Legal closing the case. However, if it continues to ask for payment, there are further steps you can take – for more info on this, see below.
'We were worried about the impact it could have on our mortgage application'
Richard Coppell and his wife Sarah, from Leeds, received a letter from BW Legal alleging they owed £61.77. The letter was addressed to Sarah, despite the E.on energy account having been in Richard's name. Richard said: "It was completely out of the blue. We were worried about the impact it could have on our credit rating and our mortgage application."
The period in which the debt was accrued was between 5 April and 29 April 2016, but the couple had moved out of the property and paid their final bill on 4 April 2016. After proving the debt wasn't theirs, the couple told MSE they received a letter from BW confirming they did not owe any money.
Again, an E.on spokesperson told MSE that it does pass debts on to BW Legal and that the law firm carries out its own checks to identify those it believes owes money.
Still being asked to pay despite the debts not being yours? Take your complaint further
If you've proven you don't owe the money, yet the debt collector continues to ask for it, you have a number of options depending on whether the firm is regulated or a member of a trade body. BW Legal, for example, is listed on the registers of the Credit Services' Association, Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and Solicitors' Regulation Authority (SRA). PRAC Financial is also on the FCA register.
If you want help with your specific complaint – for example, a mark taken off your credit file, or compensation – you can try the following:
- Complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) if the firm is registered with the FCA. It can make firms take action to resolve your complaint, such as correcting your record or forcing the firm to pay you compensation. You can take complaints to the ombudsman if you don't get a response within eight weeks of complaining to the firm, or if you're unhappy with the firm's response. BW Legal is FCA-registered so you can take a complaint to the FOS.
- You can also take your complaint to the Legal Ombudsman if the debt collection agency is regulated by a trade body. It can order firms to make things right if it finds poor service, and can award compensation of up to £50,000. BW Legal is regulated by the trade body the Credit Services' Association (CSA), so you can take your complaint to the Legal Ombudsman.
If you don't want complaint-specific help, but you want to raise awareness of general problems with a firm, you can try the following:
- Submit a complaint to the CSA if the firm is registered with it. The CSA can consider whether its code of practice has been breached and intervene if it has. BW Legal is a member of the CSA, so you can take your complaint to it.
- Complain to the SRA if the firm is regulated by it. The SRA can take disciplinary action against firms if it finds any evidence of misconduct and can fine individuals and firms. BW Legal is regulated by the SRA, so you can take your complaint to it.
- Take your complaint to the Information Commissioner's Office. It can investigate any firm, including BW Legal, which uses the personal data of UK residents, and can issue fines if it finds evidence of wrongdoing. It can also force firms to delete data held on UK residents.
- If a company doesn't have a regulator or trade body, you can complain to your local Trading Standards under UK consumer rights laws. It can investigate and take businesses to court to stop them operating.
British Gas and E.on customers complain via social media
Beware of scammers pretending to be legitimate debt collection firms
Most debt collection agencies are members of the Credit Services' Association (CSA) – you can check to see if a collector carries a licence via the CSA's website. This should help you discover if a firm is legitimate – though bear in mind scammers may copy the details of a real firm.
You can also check the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) register to see if a debt collection firm is authorised, and check the Solicitors' Regulation Authority register – if the letter has been sent on behalf of a law firm – to see if it is regulated.
If you're still unsure, you can contact your local Trading Standards team to investigate whether the company contacting you is legitimate. You can also try contacting the original creditor (in this case British Gas or E.on) to confirm if it has passed debts on.
What do BW Legal, British Gas and E.on say?
British Gas and E.on would only say that people who have received these letters should contact BW Legal.
In a statement to MSE, BW Legal said: "If the customers did not reside at the property between the periods specified, they simply need contact us and we will resolve this with them and where it was evident... that they are not responsible for the balance, the matter would be closed and that customer will no longer be contacted in relation to the debt."