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He's bad! 'Michael Jackson' chases former Igloo Energy and Together Energy customers for debts – do you need to respond?

Unbelievably, a debt collection firm has been sending emails that appear to be signed by the late pop star Michael Jackson asking for repayments owed to energy firms that have gone bust. In some cases, people don't owe the debt, in others they do – unfortunately it's not always 'black and white'.

This has also exposed the fact that there's an extraordinary gap in consumer protection. There appears to be no route to redress, complaints or alternative dispute resolution for some customers of bust energy suppliers, who are now being chased by debt collectors. MoneySavingExpert.com (MSE) founder Martin Lewis has today written to the Energy Secretary and regulators to ask them to urgently address this.

If you’ve received one of these letters, don't ignore it – here's what to do.

Emails chasing energy debts appear to be signed by 'Michael Jackson'

Collectively, we've seen hundreds of complaints on the MSE Forum, on social media and online about the practices of debt collector Barratt Smith Brown (which also trades as Barratt Smith & Brown) when chasing former Igloo Energy and Together Energy customers for debts.

Some of the complaints we've seen allege that emails sent by the collections agency appear to be signed with Michael Jackson's signature, as detailed on the late pop star's Wikipedia page:

Some former Igloo Energy and Together Energy customers have also accused Barratt Smith Brown of chasing debts that have already been repaid – see our case study on this below. Online, others say they've been chased for debts that weren't owed – either because it wasn't their debt in the first place or because they met back-billing rules to have the debts wiped.

Energy regulator Ofgem told us it too has been contacted by former Igloo Energy and Together Energy customers about Barratt Smith Brown's practices.

When asked if it had used Michael Jackson's signature, Barratt Smith Brown admitted to MSE that a "processing error" saw it wrongly send "template letter" emails to some former Together Energy customers. It says it has since emailed those affected to apologise.

However, Barratt Smith Brown wouldn't tell us how many people were impacted, whether former Igloo Energy users also got this email (though we've seen proof of this) and it's so far ignored all of our other questions.

'It's very frustrating having to defend yourself over and over'

Dave Parmenter from Buckinghamshire was a customer of former supplier Igloo Energy. The 67-year-old first received a letter from Barratt Smith Brown saying he owed £25.83 in 2022. Once Dave checked the letter was from a legitimate firm, he paid the money owed.

However since then, semi-retired Dave says he has continued to receive "threatening" correspondence from Barratt Smith Brown alleging he still owes the debt, despite providing proof of payment – something he's also shared with MoneySavingExpert.com.

In January 2024, Dave was then sent an email saying his details had been passed on to solicitors to apply to start county court proceedings against him. This email was signed with what appeared to be the signature of the late pop star Michael Jackson.

Dave said: "It's very frustrating. I know if it went to court I have proof that I've paid, but it's the hassle of having to defend yourself over and over again when you shouldn't have to." 

Been sent a letter chasing debts? Don't ignore it – even if you don't owe the cash

When Igloo Energy went bust in 2021, its customers were transferred to E.on Next. Similarly, when Together Energy went under in 2022, its customers were moved to British Gas.

Both British Gas and E.on Next have confirmed to MSE they did not take on any former customers' debts and that any debts owed to Igloo Energy and Together Energy were passed to the firms running the administration process – Alvarez & Marsal Europe and FRP Advisory respectively. The administrators then both enlisted Barratt Smith Brown to help chase what they believe to be owed. 

Administrators of bust energy firms ARE allowed to chase debts, though crucially, you must have received a bill for the energy within 12 months of using it. If you didn't receive a bill within 12 months, debts are wiped under Ofgem's 'back-billing' rules.

Don't think you owe the debt? Email Barratt Smith Brown to challenge it on collections_team@thebsbco.com. Include proof, such as bank statements confirming you've paid the debt, a final bill showing you don't owe any debts, or bills proving you were a customer of a different firm at the time the debt was alleged to have built up.

If you fail to take action – regardless of whether you owe the debt or not – your credit report could be marked with outstanding debts. The lender could also take you to court and ask for a county court judgment (CCJ) to be applied, which can seriously impact your ability to get credit, such as credit cards and mortgages, in future. A CCJ remains on your credit file for six years.

Martin Lewis: 'Consumers are stuck in an endless loop, trying to find someone to complain to'

Below is a copy of the full letter sent by Martin to the Energy Secretary, Claire Coutinho MP, on 12 March 2024:

From: Martin Lewis
Founder and Chair, MoneySavingExpert.com and 
the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute

To: The Rt Hon Claire Coutinho MP
Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero

CC: Ofgem
The Energy Ombudsman
The Financial Conduct Authority
The Financial Ombudsman Service
The Insolvency Service

                                                                                                                                  Tuesday 12 March 2024

Dear Secretary of State,

I am writing to you about an extraordinary gap in consumer protection. There appears to be no route to redress, complaints or alternative dispute resolution for some customers of bust energy suppliers, who are now being chased by debt collectors.

We have been investigating cases of consumer harm and poor practice by a debt collection agency, Barratt Smith Brown, working on behalf of the administrators of Igloo Energy and Together Energy (Alvarez and Marsal and FRP Advisory respectively). Yet this issue could apply to any debt collection for any insolvent energy supplier.

Here's what we've been told…

  • The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) – and the Financial Ombudsman Service – say they can only accept complaints regarding credit agreements, not energy bills.
  • The regulator Ofgem points to the Energy Ombudsman to raise complaints.
  • The Energy Ombudsman says it is unable to investigate as the suppliers are no longer trading.
  • Ofgem also suggested complaints could be referred to the Insolvency Service (though generally for disputes about the administrators themselves and not about money owed), which typically would refer on to the administrator's own regulator, which for some is the FCA (so back to the start).
  • The debt collection agency Barratt Smith Brown is not registered with trade body the Credit Services Association or with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (or indeed the FCA) – so complaints cannot be made to those either.

As you can see, consumers are stuck in an endless loop, trying to find someone to complain to. To put this in context, Barratt Smith Brown was sending debt collection letters, with what appears to be Michael Jackson's (yes, the late US pop star's) signature at the bottom, including to some who didn't owe it debt.

I'm sure you'll agree, debt collection, especially on a complex administration like this, needs proper oversight and the ability to complain to an independent higher authority that can make a binding ruling. I'd ask if you can help both in the short term, and for a long-term fix to this lack of dispute resolution in this situation.

Kind regards

Martin Lewis
Founder, MoneySavingExpert.com

Still being asked to pay? Your options are limited

As we mention in the letter above, there appears to be no route to redress, complaints or alternative dispute resolution for some customers of bust energy suppliers who are now being chased by debt collectors.

In this situation, your only option is to complain to your local Trading Standards under UK consumer rights laws. It can investigate and take businesses to court to stop them operating, but it won't look into individual complaints. 

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