- Regulator Ofgem has sued energy companies over service levels
- The Energy Regulatory Authority is now introducing new rules that companies must follow
- These rules will force energy companies to advertise payment plans and bill for holidays
Energy companies have been ordered by regulator Ofgem to improve customer service, particularly for vulnerable customers in debt.
The new rules, which come into effect on December 14, require energy companies to contact customers if they miss two monthly or one quarterly payments.
Energy companies need to ask if customers are having problems with their bills and, if so, offer them support such as affordable payment plans or payment deferrals.
Ofgem is also calling on energy companies to publish Citizens’ Advice ratings of their customer service so the public can see how they perform on issues such as call waiting times and quality of responses.
On the warpath: Ofgem ordered E.On Next to pay £5m compensation for poor customer service earlier this year
Jonathan Brearley, chief executive of Ofgem, said: “Over the last year we have seen some good examples of suppliers stepping up their support for customers.”
“Despite this, those working on the frontline with vulnerable households believe more needs to be done.”
“Long waits to speak to someone on the phone.” Letters were not responded to. Lack of empathy for people’s personal circumstances. That needs to change and today we set out our expectations of suppliers this winter and how they will be held to account to ensure consumers can reach them more easily.
“Especially for vulnerable customers, we expect more proactivity and a more sympathetic response.”
The energy regulator also wants to set stricter rules for customer service next year.
Earlier this year Ofgem warned that it had become “increasingly difficult” for customers to even get in touch with anyone at their energy company – despite many good examples.
The regulator said that “suppliers’ overall customer service does not meet the needs of many consumers,” citing call wait times and the ease of speaking to the utility’s staff as particular problems.
Brearley warned energy companies that Ofgem would not hesitate to impose fines for poor customer service such as unacceptably long call waiting times and call abandonment rates.
In June, Ofgem ordered energy company E.On Next to pay £5 million in compensation for “serious deficiencies” in customer service.
Then in August Ofgem asked Ovo Energy to improve its complaint handling after “serious concerns” were raised by a Citizens Advice team working with vulnerable customers.
Pressure has mounted on Ofgem to take action against the Bristol-based energy company after This is Money sent it a dossier of 200 customer complaints in recent months, many of whom believe bills are not being billed correctly.
Gillian Cooper, head of energy policy at Citizens Advice, said: “Aggressive debt collection by energy suppliers can make a difficult situation even worse for struggling households.”
“In times of high energy prices and record-breaking energy debts, treating customers fairly is more important than ever.” Any company that lets its customers down should rightly expect enforcement action.
“Ofgem is also right to ensure that customers in difficulty can easily contact their supplier.” Poor performance will be reflected in our star rating, which all suppliers must now publish.
“If you have energy debt, it’s important to speak to your supplier as soon as possible.”