Have you ever complained to an energy company? Were you pleased with the way that your complaint was handled?
If you feel like a gas and electricity supplier has fobbed off a complaint you have made, then you’re not alone – a study commissioned by Ofgem found that 57% of domestic energy consumers and 52% of small business consumers who had complained to an energy company felt like their complaint was not handled satisfactorily, and that in more than 50% of cases in which an energy supplier considered the complaint to be resolved, the customer felt it had not been.
The Complaints to Energy Companies Report 2014 found that some suppliers were significantly less likely to satisfactorily resolve complaints than others. Overall, the number of domestic customers that were ‘very dissatisfied’ with the way their complaint was handled was:
- 50% for Scottish Power
- 43% for Npower
- 39% for British Gas
- 36% for EDF
- 32% for E.ON
- 24% for SSE
However, although the Big Six are frequently heavily criticised for their complaints handling processes, smaller suppliers typically performed even worse, with 48% of their complaining domestic energy consumers saying they were very dissatisfied with the way the company handled their complaints.
Billing issues were the most commonplace complaint, representing 38% of domestic consumer complaints and 44% of small business complaints. This was followed by pricing, at 27% and 24% respectively, and meters, at 21% and 18%.
EDF was particularly likely to face metering-related complaints, with this representing 30% of all domestic complaints, while Npower saw a disproportionately high number of billing complaints, at 48%.
Complaints that were satisfactorily resolved were not necessarily resolved in a timely manner, either. While 17% of domestic energy consumers and 15% of micro businesses had their complaint resolved on the same day, with an additional 2% and 1% respectively having the issue dealt with within one day, a total of 38% of domestic consumers and 20% of business consumers had to wait for over 28 days for their issue to be resolved.
Npower and Scottish Power were some of the slowest responders, with more than half of all complaints resolved in over 28 days.
Today (September 26th), Ofgem wrote to the Chief Executive Officers of the Big Six and of smaller independent suppliers to challenge them about their failure to resolve complaints satisfactorily. The regulator also highlighted a number of key issues suppliers must work on to improve their customer service, including:
- Their proactivity in dealing with complaints;
- Their communication with consumers who are complaining; and
- The speed in which complaints are dealt with.
Chief Executive of Ofgem Dermot Nolan called the results of the consumer satisfaction survey “frankly awful”. He said companies “shouldn’t need a regulator” to tell them about the “real business benefits” of handling consumer complaints properly.
He pointed out that the energy regulator is already conducting a formal investigation into Npower regarding its customer service issues, adding he hopes this sends a “strong signal” to other energy companies that Ofgem will take action against them when necessary.
Earlier in 2014, Citizens Advice found that the volume of complaints made against Scottish Power and Npower in the first quarter of the year was nearly twice as large as during the last quarter of 2013, with new billing systems in both firms blamed for this rise.
Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Gillian Guy said that the organisations research suggests that some companies are getting worse and worse at handling consumer complaints, and that some customers may believe they are being treated “with disdain”.
She noted that gas and electricity prices have risen by around one-third since 2010, and that households are now paying more than £1,000 every year for power and central heating – something she called a “basic essential”.
Energy suppliers must therefore do all they can to ensure that they deliver their services properly and deal with issues quickly when they arise, Ms Guy said.
If energy companies cannot get to grips with complaints handling, trust in the sector will “never be restored”, she warned.
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