Energy complaints ‘could be higher’


Published: Wednesday 22nd October 2014 by The News Editor

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Unresolved complaints about energy suppliers could be five times higher than official figures suggest – leaving up to half a million households and small businesses a year missing out on compensation or facing long delays, Labour said.

Shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint seized on research by regulator Ofgem which found that only 5% of eligible cases – where a customer has received no response for eight weeks or remains dissatisfied with it – have been referred to the Energy Ombudsman.

She will use a speech at the Energy UK conference to launch a fresh assault on energy firms, warning any that repeatedly mistreat customers could be stripped of their licences by a new, more-powerful, watchdog and renewing a pledge to impose a price freeze.

“It’s bad enough when the public have cause for complaint with their energy supplier, but for energy companies to refuse to compensate consumers or string out the complaints process for months on end is completely unacceptable,” she said.

“These figures lay bare the full scale of poor customer service and public dissatisfaction with the energy market.”

An Ofgem spokesman said: “Ofgem has made it clear that complaint handling by energy companies is frankly awful. We’ve told suppliers to get their act together and explain to their customers by the end of October what they are doing to improve their procedures.

“We are already formally investigating Npower about complaint handling and other customer service issues and this should send a strong signal to all suppliers that we are ready to take action to drive up standards.

“The Energy Ombudsman was set up by Ofgem as a backstop for consumers, but it’s suppliers responsibility to get complaint handling right in the first place. We want to see greater awareness of the Ombudsman service and we are pleased they are working to address this.”

In 2013 17,948 complaints were accepted by the Ombudsman with another 37,061 in 2014 so far – 82% about billing, 13% about transfers and 3% sales – with 95% upheld and 76% resulting in financial compensation.

The main reasons for the low rate of referral were the poor standard of suppliers’ communication, lack of awareness or incorrect perception of the Energy Ombudsman and “general complaints fatigue”, Labour said.

Richard Lloyd, executive director of consumer group Which? said: “We found energy companies have hit rock bottom with millions of customers let down by woeful service and dreadful complaints handling.

“If they want to improve the low level of consumer trust in the energy market, suppliers must up their game now, rather than wait for the results of the on-going competition review.”

A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: “It is unacceptable that so many customers have not received the customer service they deserve.

“Our reforms are making it easier and quicker for people to switch energy suppliers, particularly to the growing number of independent suppliers, so all energy companies need to be doing more for their customers.”

Published: Wednesday 22nd October 2014 by The News Editor

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