Henrietta Frew

Senior Associate Solicitor

DATE PUBLISHED: 06 Mar 2024 LAST UPDATED: 06 Mar 2024

Energy Broker Commissions – Key Factors for Claimants

Following on from our recent blog (The secret’s out on energy broker commissions – have you been affected?), which explained the issue of “secret commissions” in energy contracts, we bring you some key issues and developments in this area.

Many commercial customers were targeted by brokers while energy prices were at their highest, persuading them to enter long term fixed contracts to provide certainty in a volatile political and economic climate. Sectors that typically rely on high energy usage may have been particularly targeted, such as the care, real estate and hospitality sectors.

In many cases, undisclosed commissions are linked to energy usage. This means that the longer the term of the contract is, the higher the energy usage will be and thus, the more commission that is paid to the broker. Despite energy prices having now come down, commercial clients are still being forced to pay unnecessarily high bills, putting undue pressure on businesses that are already struggling to cope in the current climate.

Broker Duty

In December 2023, the County Court considered a claim against energy supplier, Drax Energy Solutions Limited, in which it was alleged that the supplier had paid undisclosed commissions to a broker, who had arranged its energy contract with a small business. The court confirmed that a broker does owe a duty of trust and confidence to its commercial customer, on the basis that those customers “repose trust and confidence” to negotiate a deal that is in their best interests.

Customer Sophistication

The courts will consider whether a business owner was sophisticated enough to have been expected to ask questions about commission to their broker, supplier or even the regulator, OFGEM. The Judge in the Drax case commented:

“Those who run Clubs and small businesses have to be on their guard and should be alive to the possibility of a conflict of interest in these circumstances”

Business owners should therefore be acutely aware of this issue and careful about considering the terms of contracts before agreeing them.

Fully and Half Secret Commissions

There is a distinction between ‘fully secret’ and ‘half secret’ commission claims. For example, if the customer was told by the broker that they would receive a commission but just not how much, or if the customer ought reasonably to have been aware of the commission, then this would be a ‘half-secret’ commission claim. If a customer is not told at all that the broker will receive a commission, this would be a ‘fully secret’ commission claim. Which type of claim may have an effect on the relief available to a claimant.

Limitation

There are time limits for pursuing a claim. Statute sets out deadlines by which different types of claims must be issued and generally, a claimant must issue a claim against a defendant within six years of the cause of action complained of. If a claim is issued after a limitation deadline has passed, it will usually be time-barred.

In November 2023, the court in Canada Square v Potter considered whether an undisclosed commissions case could be pursued beyond the initial six-year deadline. In that case, Canada Square had consciously concealed information about the existence and amount of secret commissions from Mrs Potter, which meant that she couldn’t, with reasonable diligence, have discovered that information until much later. For that reason, Mrs Potter was entitled to use section 32 of the Limitation Act 1980, which postpones the limitation deadline in cases of fraud, concealment, or mistake, to pursue a claim which would otherwise have been time barred.

This is good news for claimants with potentially historic cases who could not have known about secret commissions until more recently. The decision has wide significance to various areas in which secret commissions have been highlighted as an issue, to include the energy sector. However, commercial customers should treat the matter with caution and seek independent legal advice as soon as possible to protect their position, given the strict deadlines for pursuing these claims.

How can Ellis Jones help?

If you are a commercial customer who has engaged with an energy broker to find a supplier and consider that you were not informed of the existence or amount of commission fees which were paid to the broker, it may mean that you are potentially able to make a claim.

Our Banking and Finance Litigation team have successfully acted upon several high-profile mis-selling scandals in recent years, recovering millions of pounds for commercial and individual clients alike. We will always consider your individual circumstances to provide tailored advice at an affordable cost. For more specialist advice, guidance and help, please get in touch with Paul Kanolik and Henrietta Frew on Banking@ellisjones.co.uk or give us a call on 01202 525333 for a no obligation consultation.

How can we help?

When you submit this form an email will be sent to the relevant department who will contact you within 48 hours. If you require urgent advice please call 01202 525333.

Make an enquiry

Related news

5 minute read

FCA in the driving seat – an update for consumers on car/motor finance mis-selling

Read more
4 minute read

Evidence of new FCA “Consumer Duty” beginning to bite: time for firms to address implementation and consumers to raise expectations

Read more
5 minute read

FCA Trends in Financial Promotions: A Warning for Consumers and Firms

Read more
3 minute read

Bridging the Gap? Common Disputes with Bridging Lenders

Read more