Why you should check your energy bill balance this month

Your electricity and gas provider could owe you hundreds of pounds - and this month is the ideal time to check, personal finance guru Martin Lewis has said.

Energy firms in the UK are believed to be sitting on around £7bn of money that they owe back to their customers.

Many people opt to pay with direct debit as it is often cheaper and more convenient, but this builds up a surplus of credit in households' accounts.

Some may think it is better to let it sit there in preparation for the winter, particularly after the country saw bills skyrocket amid a global energy crisis.

This is generally a good budgeting strategy, but due to something known as the monthly direct debit energy cycle, Lewis has advised that May is the perfect time to ask suppliers for money owed.

What is the monthly direct debit energy cycle?

As Lewis explains using a handy chart on ITV's Good Morning Britain, someone starting with a £0 balance in January will build up their debt throughout the winter as they use more energy.

Industry data shows that this week - the start of May - is when that starts to change, with customers instead starting to build up credit.

This then peaks in November, as cold weather starts to take its toll, prompting debt to suppliers to start accumulating again.

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Based on this cycle, this week is the week of the year where consumers should have the least amount of credit, Lewis told GMB.

How much someone will have will depend on when they signed up with their energy firm, but nonetheless, Lewis says there's no reason to be in credit at the start of May, as the money is of little use at this time of year.

"If you're two or three months in credit right now, that's too much. Of course you need to have done a meter reading so the firm is accurate on what your credit is," he told the show.

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"Right now is the time to go to your energy account, have a look at whether you're in credit or not, and if you are in credit and it's a substantial amount - well, it's not always that easy to do, but this is when I'd be asking for the money back.

"At the start of May, you shouldn't really have any energy credit, you don't need any."

However, some customers have reported that they've had to fight for their money back, despite them being legally required to provide refunds if too much credit has built up, MoneySavingExpert advises.

Customers can make a complaint via Resolver, which will fast-track disputes to the Energy Ombudsman if they can't be resolved.