Energy regulator Ofgem today named and shamed 17 retailers for shortcomings and slackness in their handling of customers on the brink of ducking energy bills.
Today’s revelations come as the latest step in the regulator’s Market Compliance Review, its three-stage examination of customer handling by licenced suppliers.
The watchdog quizzed the 17, requesting documents on the suppliers’ internal processes for dealing with vulnerable customers, confronting rocketing fuel bills.
Ofgem has itself come in for heavy criticism from anti-poverty campaigners and industry observers, for its years of permissive, ‘light touch’ regulation, which welcomed under-capitalised entrants with inexperienced owners & managers into UK household supply.
Protocols probed in the latest study included how quickly and for what reasons struggling bill payers are added by each firm to its Priority Service Register, a statutory list which offers clients extra help.
Identifying and supporting customers in debt & feeding more expensive pre-payment meters were among other triggers. So were uncertainties over when to offer free safety checks for gas leaks.
- Severe weaknesses were found in five suppliers – Good Energy, Outfox, SO Energy, TruEnergy, Utilita
- Moderate weaknesses were found in five suppliers – E (Gas & Electricity), Ecotricity, Green Energy UK, Octopus and Shell
- Minor weaknesses were found in seven suppliers – British Gas, Bulb, EDF, E.ON, Ovo, Scottish Power and Utility Warehouse.
Ofgem wrote to the 17 earlier this month. It is making public here the responses it receives from retailers. Its statement this morning warns the firms of the penalties it could impose under its Enforcement Guidelines .
Energy UK, the suppliers’ lobbying body, maintains a Vulnerability Commitment. It is only voluntary. Ofgem said its probe had encouraged some energy sellers to sign up.
“My message to suppliers today is simple- be proactive. Help your customers to know what support is available, and then deliver it,” declared Neil Lawrence, Ofgem’s director of retail.
“Suppliers need to do more to support consumers”, Lawrence went on.
“We welcome the cooperation from suppliers and action taken so far, and, although we are seeing some very good practice in parts of the industry, we can see there is still much more to be done”.
Ofgem’s next market review, expected at the start of next year, will look at customer service.
Over the past year service quality has plummeted across the whole supply community. It is standard practice now not to answer the phone or have any form of messaging system as well as not to respond to emails, both mailboxes set up specifically for a purpose or to individual named personnel.
Even more disappointing is the singular lack of empathy demonstrated by people when you do get hold of them.
Complaint processes are rarely useful. Whilst they may trigger an initial response in order to comply with required regulations thereafter they just grind to a halt. Most suppliers, particularly the major players don’t seem able to cope but will also accept no responsibility. Classic example is a major discrepenecy between a supplier closing read and an opening read. neither supplier interested in sorting it out and the customer meanwhile significantly out of pocket. At the route of much of this is the desire to automate all comms using clearly inadequate systems