Microbusiness
Energy
Consumers

Microbusiness
Energy
Consumers

Microbusiness
Energy
Consumers

Microbusiness Consumers

Free, practical consumer advice and information on energy-related matters for the citizens of Scotland

Definition of Microbusinesses and vulnerable Microbussineses

A microbusiness is a term used to describe the smallest category of business. The energy regulator Ofgem categorizes micro-businesses based on the number of employees, its income and its energy usage:

  • Microbusinesses have an annual turnover of less than £2 million.
  • Microbusinesses have less than 100,000 kWh of electricity each year.
  • Microbusinesses use less than 293,000 kWh of gas each year.

‘Vulnerable customer’ is a term commonly associated with energy consumers who need special considerations for their circumstances, but it can also be applied if you are buying energy as a business as well. This can potentially apply when your microbusiness’s building is your own property or arrears for a business property threaten disconnection of your residential supply. When problems with that supply are far more likely, or could result in worsening the circumstances, you could potentially be vulnerable. The type of contract you are on changes the considerations that can be made. If you have a residential supply contract and have been in debt to a point warranting disconnection, the supplier must offer a prepayment meter as an option instead.

If you are on a commercial supply contract, the supplier has no obligation to offer you an alternative to disconnection. If you find yourself in arrears under this kind of contract, you should contact the supplier and explain that you are a vulnerable customer. The energy company has the final decision in whether this is the case or not. It is important to check if your business is running on a residential supply. If this is the case, you will be treated like any non-business customer of energy.

Microbusiness Contracts

It is common practice for a business to negotiate a fixed term contract with a supplier for the provision of energy. The details of such a contract are agreed between the supplier and the business. When an agreement is reached, the supplier must send the details of the agreement within 10 days.

The supplier must contact the business in writing or by email within 60 days before the fixed term ends to explain how to negotiate a new contract. If the fixed term contract expires without a new fixed contract being agreed, there will be an automatic renewal with energy being supplied at a higher price. If the business wishes to end the contract early, they must give at least 30 days’ notice.

A ‘deemed contract’ refers to an automatic agreement between a supplier and a new owner of a business. These contracts are not preferable to negotiating a new fixed-term contract because a ‘deemed contract’ is often more expensive. There is no notice period for cancelling a deemed contract and a supplier cannot prevent the business from changing to another supplier.

Meter Reading and Energy Efficiency

There are three small-scale methods that can save your business a considerable amount in energy costs:

  • Ensure that heating and lighting are not overused by not keeping the temperature too high, turning off lights when not in use, using newer or more energy-efficient bulbs, and shutting equipment down instead of leaving on standby.
  • Reading the meter on a regular basis if your business does not have a smart meter. This ensures that actual readings are used instead of estimations of energy usage. Getting a smart meter would do this automatically, so it would be worth enquiring with your business’s energy supplier.
  • Check the available tariffs to see if a better price is available to your business.

Obtaining readings from an energy meter is a method of monitoring costs for a business, and potentially reducing these. Much like customers supplying their homes, businesses should take readings from their meter and send them to the supplier for each billing period. This is because the supplier will otherwise use an estimated reading of the energy which can be inaccurate, and as a result, may be higher than the actual energy being used.

It is beneficial for the business to have a smart meter that will display and send exact readings to the supplier automatically. A smart meter can be requested from a supplier, but there is no obligation to supply them until the 2024 rollout deadline has been reached.

Microbusiness Billing and Arrears

Back billing is the practice used by suppliers to charge for energy costs that should have been in a previous bill (e.g. the supplier was mistaken about the amount of energy used at the time). A business can’t be back billed for the cost of energy that was used over 12 months prior, unless the supplier has reason to do this, such as the business customer avoiding supplying accurate meter readings and bills being produced on under-estimated usage.

If a business is unable to pay an energy bill or is in arrears, it should contact the energy supplier to find an alternative payment arrangement. Suppliers should give the business time to pay or an opportunity to renegotiate the contract depending on prior payment history. This should be done as soon as possible to ensure that an amicable solution can be reached. Ofgem (the Energy Regulator) provide very specific guidelines for energy suppliers on handling customers with debt and arrears fairly.

Microbusiness Supply

Arrears may result in the disconnection of the businesses energy supply. If the supplier wishes to disconnect the supply of a business in Scotland, they must get a warrant from the magistrate’s court first. The business will then be informed of a court date, time and location so that a defense may be heard. This warrant should detail the notice period for disconnection to take place (usually 7 days). The court can delay the disconnection while the case is being considered.

If your supplier is going into administration, Ofgem will transfer you (or your business) to an alternative supplier, preventing you (or your business) being cut off from the energy supply. The selection is based on the new supplier’s ability to continue the service of providing gas and electricity without interruption to the consumers impacted by the administration. The decision will also consider potential companies and their willingness to provide compensation if you were in credit with the previous supplier. Your debt is not transferred to the new company, unless a prepayment meter has been installed.

There are three small-scale methods that can save your business a considerable amount in energy costs:

  • Ensure that heating and lighting are not overused by not keeping the temperature too high, turning off lights when not in use, using newer or more energy-efficient bulbs, and shutting equipment down instead of leaving on standby.
  • Reading the meter on a regular basis if your business does not have a smart meter. This ensures that actual readings are used instead of estimations of energy usage. Getting a smart meter would do this automatically, so it would be worth enquiring with your business’s energy supplier.
  • Check the available tariffs to see if a better price is available to your business.

You can switch supplier as a microbusiness if you give the correct notice to your current supplier. The amount of required notice is detailed in the contract.

 

You should check the prices to see if another supplier is better value for money (e.g. by using a price comparison site). Alternatively, you could look for cheaper tariffs with your current supplier.

 

You should switch from a ‘default’ or ‘deemed’ tariff as soon as possible. This is because they are intended to be used before another contract is signed and can be considerably more expensive than other options.

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