Consistency in policy and T&C — Bulb Community

Consistency in policy and T&C

Allanr said:

Separately I have concerns about the way Bulb calculates the proposed increase to DD and the possible wording of the emails suggesting such increases, these I have mentioned on quite a number of other threads. I fully appreciate the rationale for ensuring customers don't fall into arrears and landed with large payment requests.

I've been thinking of posting some questions on this subject ever since @Allanr pointed me specifically to the T&C. Several people on here, including me, have echoed the Bulb "requirements" of paying in advance and maintaining the account in credit at all times. Those comments notwithstanding, how do they correlate with the T&C found here? Perhaps @DanP at Bulb can offer advice.

The relevant paragraph is 3.16:
3.16. You must keep your account in credit by paying for the supply in advance by automatic payment, or if you're in debt with us, you agree to not be in debt by more than half of what we've calculated as being your expected annual bill.
This clearly contradicts itself. You must keep your account in credit, or at least not in debt by more than half the expected annual usage. As far as I can see, there is no term that states the account must always be in credit, and certainly nothing that specifies how much credit must be on the account at the start of the winter months. If Bulb policy on this has changed, then the T&C need to be updated and the changes notified to all customers. There needs to be a clear paragraph on exactly how much credit is expected to be in an account on a day defined as the start of winter, say 1st November, and additional terms defining how this is handled in the event that someone switches to Bulb at the start, or just before, the defined winter period.

The current situation where the terms allows a debt of up to half the expected annual usage, but in practise being expected to maintain a significant positive balance clearly cannot go on.
3.3. If you have a standard meter, you must either pay the amount shown on your bill in accordance with your chosen payment method or the fixed amount you have agreed to pay.

3.8. If you have a standard meter, you agree to pay for your energy by monthly automatic payment by Direct Debit or by Debit card.

3.13. If you're not paying by automatic payment, we will issue you an invoice for payment monthly, which you will have 10 working days to pay from the day you receive the invoice.
There have been several comments recently where customers would like to just pay the bill each month, and not spread the payments out through the year. We're told this isn't possible and the way it works is the standard 1/12th payment system used by many (most?) suppliers. But that is not what is said according to paragraph 3.3 and 3.8. How does one go about simply paying the stated bill each month, either by Direct Debit or Debit card, rather than paying a standard monthly amount? How do these two terms not contradict paragraph 3.16 which requires automatic payment in advance? Why does paragraph 3.13 discuss non-automatic payment when this contradicts 3.8 that says automatic payment is required?

There we go ... that should keep discussions going for a bit.

Comments

  • @Hooloovoo @Allanr FYI - In 2016 the T&Cs included:

    3.18 Your automatic payment amount will be based on the amount of energy we think you'll use
    during your agreement plus an additional 9% to ensure your account remains in credit to
    account for seasonal fluctuations and to account for changes in your usage. If you join us
    between July and March, we will set your automatic payment amount at 120% of your
    estimated annual usage for the months of October to March and then reduce this to 100%
    from April on ongoing. If you join us between April and June, we will set your automatic
    payment amount at 109% of your estimated annual usage.


    It's similar to what Outfox the Market have deciced to do now.

    I've no idea when the policy changed since customers are not informed when the T&Cs are updated and I always set my own DD anyway.
  • edited November 2018
    yyt said:

    @Hooloovoo @Allanr FYI - In 2016 the T&Cs included:

    Incredible!

    Here's the oldest T&C from the Wayback Machine dated 20 November 2017. It doesn't include the increased percentage at that point.

    Although interestingly 3.15 used to require a meter reading every 30 days, and by January 2018 this was downgraded to 90 days.

    It really does seem like someone has dropped the ball on this. Those terms from 2016 are exactly what's needed!

    It's not quite the same as OFTM, since if I understand correctly they are going to vary the DD every year between summer and winter. The variation in the T&C you've quoted is just in the first year after joining, to compensate for the time of year when you switch. i.e. if you join in winter you've got to pay more initially than if you joined in the spring, and that's exactly the system I proposed on another thread earlier this week.
  • edited November 2018
    Hey Hooloovoo, nice eagle eyes there.

    A quick disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer, so I'll double check with them. There's a chance that I'll have to come back and correct myself later, but I'll answer with what I believe the correct answer is in the meantime so that you aren't left waiting for ages for a legalese response.
    Hooloovoo said:

    "3.16. You must keep your account in credit by paying for the supply in advance by automatic payment, or if you're in debt with us, you agree to not be in debt by more than half of what we've calculated as being your expected annual bill."

    This clearly contradicts itself.

    You must make payments in advance, but it's still possible to fall into debt with active payments, for example by using more energy than your payments can cover. If you are in debt, we don't demand that you pay it off all at once, because everyone has their own budgets. But we do need to have rules about how quickly you pay it off. In reality though, if you can't pay your debt within those rules we'd usually be happy to work something out, as long as you talk to us about it.

    I'll ask the lawyers if we can rephrase it to be clearer. Because you're right, it's not clear.
    Hooloovoo said:


    "3.3. If you have a standard meter, you must either pay the amount shown on your bill in accordance with your chosen payment method or the fixed amount you have agreed to pay.

    3.8. If you have a standard meter, you agree to pay for your energy by monthly automatic payment by Direct Debit or by Debit card.

    3.13. If you're not paying by automatic payment, we will issue you an invoice for payment monthly, which you will have 10 working days to pay from the day you receive the invoice."

    There have been several comments recently where customers would like to just pay the bill each month, and not spread the payments out through the year. We're told this isn't possible and the way it works is the standard 1/12th payment system used by many (most?) suppliers. But that is not what is said according to paragraph 3.3 and 3.8. How does one go about simply paying the stated bill each month, either by Direct Debit or Debit card, rather than paying a standard monthly amount? How do these two terms not contradict paragraph 3.16 which requires automatic payment in advance? Why does paragraph 3.13 discuss non-automatic payment when this contradicts 3.8 that says automatic payment is required?

    Again, I'll have to check with the lawyers on this one. But I believe 3.8 stands at all times, but if you were to break that clause or have a special circumstance where that clause doesn't stand for whatever reason then you must pay within 10 days of receipt of bill. Again, not a lawyer.
    yyt said:

    @Hooloovoo @Allanr FYI - In 2016 the T&Cs included:

    3.18 Your automatic payment amount will be based on the amount of energy we think you'll use
    during your agreement plus an additional 9% to ensure your account remains in credit to
    account for seasonal fluctuations and to account for changes in your usage. If you join us
    between July and March, we will set your automatic payment amount at 120% of your
    estimated annual usage for the months of October to March and then reduce this to 100%
    from April on ongoing. If you join us between April and June, we will set your automatic
    payment amount at 109% of your estimated annual usage.


    It's similar to what Outfox the Market have deciced to do now.

    I've no idea when the policy changed since customers are not informed when the T&Cs are updated and I always set my own DD anyway.

    I can answer this one without a disclaimer!

    We're increasing so many members payments right now because this year was a perfect storm of increasing costs. Wholesale energy prices increased by 62% over 7 months, and we had to increase ours by a total of something like 19%. So our members' payments had to increase to keep up.

    Back when we first started we had a Winter Uplift of 20% during your first winter to help us to maintain healthy cash balance over winter during our first two winters. We removed it in April 2017 (if I remember correctly) because people really didn't like it. A lot of people didn't really get the concept when they were signing up, and then they didn't remember about it in September when we reminded them about it. The feedback we got then was that members preferred having a static payment amount throughout the year so they could budget month to month effectively. Having higher payments in winter was difficult for a lot of people, especially with Christmas putting strain on their budgets.

    Having it now wouldn't have stopped us having to review our member's payments this time around either. Their payments would have still been too low given the increase in prices.

    Does that cover everything. Anything I've missed?

  • edited November 2018
    @Will at Bulb

    Regarding:

    3.16. You must keep your account in credit by paying for the supply in advance by automatic payment, or if you're in debt with us, you agree to not be in debt by more than half of what we've calculated as being your expected annual bill."

    and your response:

    You must make payments in advance, but it's still possible to fall into debt with active payments, for example by using more energy than your payments can cover. If you are in debt, we don't demand that you pay it off all at once, because everyone has their own budgets. But we do need to have rules about how quickly you pay it off. In reality though, if you can't pay your debt within those rules we'd usually be happy to work something out, as long as you talk to us about it.

    Para. 3.16 doesn't seem to to be good on a cash flow basis for Bulb? I appreciate the purse is tight for lots of people but why would Bulb allow customers to have in effect six months worth of energy without paying for it? Whilst I can appreciate you wouldn't demand this backlog in payment to be paid off in one go, wouldn't Bulb have been talking to these customers at a far earlier stage such as when they went for example one month in arrears?
  • You must make payments in advance, but it's still possible to fall into debt with active payments, for example by using more energy than your payments can cover. If you are in debt, we don't demand that you pay it off all at once, because everyone has their own budgets. But we do need to have rules about how quickly you pay it off. In reality though, if you can't pay your debt within those rules we'd usually be happy to work something out, as long as you talk to us about it.

    I'll ask the lawyers if we can rephrase it to be clearer. Because you're right, it's not clear.

    Ok, yes, that makes sense. I can see that if I were to set my direct debit to £1 per month, I would still technically be paying in advance by automatic payment. But within 6 months I would be almost half my annual usage in debt if nothing were done. As you say, that could do with being reworded to be clearer as to what circumstances it applies.

    We're increasing so many members payments right now because this year was a perfect storm of increasing costs. Wholesale energy prices increased by 62% over 7 months, and we had to increase ours by a total of something like 19%. So our members' payments had to increase to keep up.

    Back when we first started we had a Winter Uplift of 20% during your first winter to help us to maintain healthy cash balance over winter during our first two winters. We removed it in April 2017 (if I remember correctly) because people really didn't like it. A lot of people didn't really get the concept when they were signing up, and then they didn't remember about it in September when we reminded them about it. The feedback we got then was that members preferred having a static payment amount throughout the year so they could budget month to month effectively. Having higher payments in winter was difficult for a lot of people, especially with Christmas putting strain on their budgets.

    Having it now wouldn't have stopped us having to review our member's payments this time around either. Their payments would have still been too low given the increase in prices.

    I think everyone involved in this discussion understands why prices are set and changed as they are, the question is to do with aligning the T&C with what is expected in reality and providing justification to those that don't have such a clear understanding.

    As you say, having the initial payment accelerator to pre-fund new accounts for winter wouldn't have stopped the payments being escalated due to the overall cost increase, and no one likes it when their payments go up. But lets be realistic here, they like it even less when their payments go up due to a sudden previously unspecified and unmentioned "winter buffer" and an overall increase in prices.

    There needs to be some official documentation, backed up by the legalease in the T&C, that describes what level of balance is required throughout the year. Of course, this has to be somehow done in a way that isn't too complicated and doesn't require a maths degree to understand. Right now someone can complain that they were never told about any "winter buffer" and obviously they'd be right. With any of the "Big 6" if you join in winter, then naturally your account is in such a phase where the balance goes negative over winter and is paid off over summer and the supplier just accepts that. I should imagine that most customers simply expect the same with Bulb unless they are told otherwise when signing up.

    I don't see this has to be too complicated. A couple of terms such as

    a) Your account is expected to never go negative under normal circumstances.
    b) Your payments are set at such a level as to ensure £xx of credit in October.

    should do the trick. But obviously written by a lawyer ...
  • Allanr said:

    Para. 3.16 doesn't seem to to be good on a cash flow basis for Bulb? I appreciate the purse is tight for lots of people but why would Bulb allow customers to have in effect six months worth of energy without paying for it? Whilst I can appreciate you wouldn't demand this backlog in payment to be paid off in one go, wouldn't Bulb have been talking to these customers at a far earlier stage such as when they went for example one month in arrears?

    Yeah, we get in touch as soon as we can, either when a payment fails, when we do our payment reviews, or if we notice outside of these events. Maintaining good cash flow is important, so we have a dedicated team who look after it. But they do it in a nice way and always try to give members the best experience they can.
    Hooloovoo said:

    ...But lets be realistic here, they like it even less when their payments go up due to a sudden previously unspecified and unmentioned "winter buffer" and an overall increase in prices.

    There needs to be some official documentation, backed up by the legalease in the T&C, that describes what level of balance is required throughout the year. Of course, this has to be somehow done in a way that isn't too complicated and doesn't require a maths degree to understand. Right now someone can complain that they were never told about any "winter buffer" and obviously they'd be right. With any of the "Big 6" if you join in winter, then naturally your account is in such a phase where the balance goes negative over winter and is paid off over summer and the supplier just accepts that. I should imagine that most customers simply expect the same with Bulb unless they are told otherwise when signing up.

    I don't see this has to be too complicated. A couple of terms such as

    a) Your account is expected to never go negative under normal circumstances.
    b) Your payments are set at such a level as to ensure £xx of credit in October.

    should do the trick. But obviously written by a lawyer ...

    Makes sense to me (I am not a lawyer!). For the record, we already have "3.16. You must keep your account in credit..." and "3.21.2. We can increase your automatic payments to cover the energy we think you'll use during the winter months once your credit balance has been reduced by such a refund."

    I also thought we had text explaining it on our quote page when people join us, but apparently not, so I'll raise that with our writers too.

    So I'll talk to both our lawyers and the copy team to come up with something better. Please prod me if I don't get back to you soon enough :)

  • For the record, we already have "3.16. You must keep your account in credit..."

    Yes, but currently 3.16 essentially says "You must keep your account in credit, unless it's not".

    and "3.21.2. We can increase your automatic payments to cover the energy we think you'll use during the winter months once your credit balance has been reduced by such a refund."

    Which is irrelevant when no one has asked for a refund.
  • edited January 7
    Hey @Hooloovoo @Allanr @yyt and other Community members.

    Just to let you know that we've got a couple of meetings happening this week that will finalize the changes to our Ts&Cs.

    We will keep you updated on the outcome of these and let you know what changes we've made.

    Thanks for your patience with this. As I'm sure you can imagine, these legal things take time to get right.

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