By Ian Barnsley
Four of the Big Six energy companies are to start giving their customers automatic refunds by direct debit when they are in credit.
EDF, British Gas and SSE are all following the lead of E.ON, which has already begun offering automatic refunds, following talks with Energy and Climate Change Minister Greg Barker.
First Utility, a smaller provider, has also decided to give its customers similar refunds.
The Department for Energy and Climate Change asked the providers to give their customers automatic refunds once a year when they have a certain credit balance.
55% pay bills by direct debit
Triggered at thresholds of between 1p and £10, the credit can either be returned to customers' accounts or used towards their next bill for their gas and electricity.
More than half of energy customers pay by direct debit (55%) so the announcement is good news for them, according to Mr Barker.
He said the government is working hard to reduce people's energy bills wherever it can and it is right that consumers should get their money returned without having to ask for it.
He said getting five energy companies to agree to the automatic refunds should help to rebuild trust with consumers after recent price rises.
nPower is reviewing the suggestion
And he is calling on other providers to follow suit, including the other two energy giants, nPower and Scottish Power.
According to nPower it is reviewing the suggestion but said its customer feedback indicates that refunding low amounts isn't worthwhile and many of them like to keep their credit in their accounts to use the following year.
Halfway through direct debit arrangements the five suppliers will ask their customers if a meter reading is required.
Once it has been carried out they will review direct debits to avoid people accumulating large amounts of credit or debit on their account.