So with ‘news’ that only a quarter of us trust our energy supplier, just how bad are the energy suppliers at looking after customer? And are the smaller, friendlier firms actually any better than the big bad Big Six?
One way that commitment to existing customers (over scrabbling for new ones) can be measured is the resources spent on customer care over sales- using the time taken to answer a customer service call over a sales call. Helpfully, the good eggs over at Which!!! have already done this for us and have compiled a table of the best and worst offenders in the length of time to answer a customer service call stakes.
Taking half an hour to answer call, the scrapings at the bottom of the barrel belong to Big 6 Scottish Power, who blamed a new IT system and a need for more staff for their shocking performance, which didn’t stop them answering a sales call in just 49 seconds, which earns them a second top prize for the worst customer service:sales call ratio. However, the second longest customer service call waiting time was found at the door of friendly smaller company First Utility at a little under 19 minutes, who recently came out as having finalised their faster switching service earlier than required- perhaps they should have employed those resources on looking after the people who had already switched first.
The shortest call times were found at Ebico, which has managed to answer calls in less than 30 seconds on average in all four of Which!!!’s investigations so far, proving it can be done. It was also one of only five companies who prioritise existing customers over new ones, evidenced by a shorter call waiting time for customer service. The other four were Good Energy, Utility Warehouse, Sainsbury’s Energy and Spark.
But Which!!!’s investigation does not show that the Big 6 are necessarily the worst for customer service- nPower in particular has vastly improved its call answering times, down from a shocking 19 minutes in earlier years. But nor are the smaller ones necessarily any better.
OVO energy prides itself on offering 3% interest on credit balances to customers who pay by advance direct debit. The idea being that even if you do overpay, you’re getting compensated for the fact that they have your money instead of you. And 3% isn’t a bad rate. However it seems that OVO are less keen on actually giving you your money back, particularly at a time when you might need it, like before Christmas. Despite the fact that their own terms and conditions say that refunds requested will normally be paid within seven days, anyone requesting a refund is currently being told they might have to wait for fourteen working days (so 18 actual days) for their own money. Amazing in a time of two hour transfers. We did ask OVO for an official response but they declined to comment.
But it is worth pointing out that OVO, and a number of other energy firms don’t only allow customer service contact by telephone- customers can often get an immediate response by webchat, and OVO complaints (for example) are handled within one day even on a Saturday.
So, who is your energy provider and would you rate them as good or bad for customer service? And is the standard of customer service the main reason for investigating a switch?
After British Gas got slapped silly with a fine, Ofgem are at it again, doling out financial penalties to other energy firms. Three of them have agreed to cough-up for a total of £4.6m for failing to meet energy efficiency targets. They’ve probably got that in loose change down the back of their considerable couches.
Scottish Power, SSE and generator GDF Suez/IPM are all going to be paying up after they missed environmental targets which they’d been issued with by the government.
Like the British Gas fine, the money from these will go to charities that will help vulnerable customers.
Basically, what’s happened is that these companies have missed the targets where they were required to lower carbon emissions by making their customers’ homes more energy efficient with things like cavity wall insulation and the like.
Ofgem said SSE would pay £1.75m for missing their targets, while Scottish Power will be paying £2.4m and GDF Suez/IPM is forking out £450,000.
Over the past few weeks Ofgem have issued fines that total almost £55m to six companies and £49.7m of that money will go to charities while the remaining £5m is a fine to be paid by Drax.
And yes, you can fully expect this to be recouped by the energy firms when they put everyone’s bills up next year.
It looks like a whole host of us have not been reclaiming the money that is rightfully ours after we’ve closed accounts with energy providers. You’re smart enough to know that the energy companies are quite happy for you to leave it in their care and not do a damned thing about it.
Somewhere in advance of £200m has been left in 3.5 million frozen accounts, discovered by Ofgem, and Energy UK want everyone to get their money back.
British Gas, EDF Energy, E.ON, npower, ScottishPower and SSE have all been asked to refund old customers, but obviously, they need to be ordered to do it.
So how can you get your cash back? Well, Energy UK has launched the My Energy Credit campaign and they reckon they’ve already got £50m back into the hands of the people who were owed it. Now they want everyone else to get on it. They’ve set up a website, which you can see here, as well as a helpline and freepost address. Concerning the latter, you can call 0370 737 7770 or write to:
My Energy Credit
47 Aylesbury Road
Thame, OX9 3PG
Energy UK chief executive Lawrence Slade said: “This campaign aims to inform customers throughout the UK about money that might be owed to them by their previous energy supplier. Energy companies have long had systems in place to give back energy credit to customers. This campaign spreads awareness and makes it easier for consumers to check whether they are owed money or not.”
So don’t miss out. If you think you’re owed money by an energy company, chase them up and you’ll have a nice little bonus to spend on dirty books, booze or whatever it is that tickles your pickle.
And now, in ‘fines that will eventually be passed on to the customer through increases of their bills’ news, and Ofgem have hit British Gas with a penalty to the tune of £11.1m after they failed to meet energy efficiency targets.
The regulator said that British Gas had failed to meet mutually agreed deadlines to insulate homes under two energy efficiency schemes that took place until the close of 2012. While the company eventually reached the target, their messing about meant that thousands of homes missed out during the winter of 12/13.
You may recall that, only last week, the power generators Drax got slapped with a £28m fine for failing to meet similar targets under the Community Energy Saving Programme (CESP). Similarly, it looks like InterGen will have to cough-up £11m too.
Other energy companies you will have heard of are looking at fines too, including SSE, Scottish Power and GDF/Suez.
Sarah Harrison from Ofgem said: “British Gas’s failure to deliver two environmental obligations on time is unacceptable. Thousands of households had to wait for energy efficiency measures, like insulation, to be installed during the winter. The payment reflects British Gas’s failure to meet its obligations on time but also recognises its commitment to put things right.”
British Gas said that we shouldn’t hate them though, because they delivered more than they were asked to do, even if they were tardy. Claire Miles, managing director of British Gas New Energy, said: “We’re pleased that in the end we managed to help more vulnerable people under this scheme than was required.”
The £11.1m will be donated to charity to help vulnerable people with energy costs and the like.
Industry body Energy UK believe customers could have been overcharged by as much as 25p for each top-up. According to them, around 1.5 million meters haven’t been working correctly for as long as seven years, as the meters were not properly calibrated to measure the cost of the gas being used.
In the worst cases, some customers may have been rinsed for as much as £110 extra.
“We apologise unreservedly to customers,” said Lawrence Slade, the chief operating officer of Energy UK. ”We have acted quickly, and we want those affected to get their money back as soon as possible,” he told the BBC.
Gas customers will be refunded by their energy dealers, and their cards will be updated when they next need a top-up. British Gas, have already said more than 700,000 of its customers may have been overcharged.
Regulator Ofgem has called for a timetable for refunds and repairs, and it is thought that refunds will go out before Christmas.
“That overcharging has been going on for seven years shows the second-class service prepayment customers get,” said Gillian Guy, Citizens Advice chief executive, adding: ”Prepayment meter customers are already paying higher charges than direct debit customers, so this is adding insult to injury.”
The idea is to broadcast super WiFi throughout the land, which will mean you’ll be able to get an internet connection literally anywhere. The new WiFi would travel through walls far more effectively than current systems and has a range 100 times greater than current routers.
According to researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, the fast connections could be made available to the public for free.
The WiFi would use up the white space between TV channels, and offers speeds similar to 4G
It all boils down to the government allowing people to use it, rather than sell it off to telecoms companies that they may have interests in.
Arnd Weber of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology said: “Implementation of our approach would have far-reaching consequences. Individuals, institutions, and companies would be far less dependent on expensive mobile communications networks in conducting their digital communication. This would also be of great economic benefit.”
The Karlsruhe Institute of Technology hope that governments can discuss the issue at next year’s World Radiocommunication Conference. Which sounds like quite the party.
You know how it is when you recommend something to your friends and it turns out to be completely rubbish? Energy minister Ed Davey might be feeling a little red faced today after news emerges that his recommended smaller supplier Ovo has made a bit of a rickett and has charged a load of switchers the wrong energy rate.
It seems many of the people who actually could be bothered to go and find a new energy deal could find themselves having to fork out some extra cash as Ovo discovered their error which affects people who switched between April and June. In total, more than 13,000 customers of Ovo Energy were charged the wrong amounts for gas and electricity owing to a computer glitch. Three in four of these – just under 10,000 – will see the amount they owe increase as Ovo tries to correct the errors, with the worst cases seeing poor customers asked to cough up as much as £400 extra. Ovo said the average undercharge was £25.Similarly some households have paid hundreds of pounds too much and will be given refunds.
All this is obviously highly embarrassing for Ovo, which has positioned itself as a customer champion against the Big Six, and for ministers including Ed Davey who, earlier this year praised Ovo Energy for “doing a fantastic job” encouraging customers to switch to these small suppliers who he described as “agents of real change”.
More than 300,000 people switch energy suppliers every month, figures show, with many starting to look to smaller firms such as Ovo and First Utility. Ovo is the third-largest of the small suppliers, behind First Utility and Utility Warehouse, according to data compiled by The Telegraph. While the small suppliers’ share of the market has increased eightfold since 2011, they still only have around eight per cent, with the lion’s share still held by the big six suppliers.
A spokesman for Ovo explained that some customers were originally set up on the wrong electricity and gas unit rates, hence the embarrassing correction needed now.
“We unreservedly apologise for this mistake and we’ve now started correcting the balance of accounts that have been affected as a matter of priority, and will be writing to every single customer affected,” the spokesman said. “Anyone affected will be put back on the rates they initially chose. No saving any customer will have made by switching to us has been affected by this issue.”
Still, Ovo are making some effort to placate the affected customers. Overcharged customers will be repaid “as quickly as possible”, with undercharging below £10 written off. Customers undercharged by more than £50 will receive a goodwill gesture of between £20 to £100.
They’re looking at a selling ban if they don’t sort out their customer services according to energy watchdog Ofgem. Scottish Power need to start cutting down on helpline waiting times, among other things.
The energy provider now has monthly deadlines, set by Ofgem, to improve various aspects of their business. If they don’t fix them, then they suspend Scottish Power’s sales activities. The company have to sort out their backlog of customer complaints need to cut their overdue customer bills to 30,000 from 75,000.
Ofgem added that Scottish Power needs to significantly speed up the time it takes to answer customer calls by the end of January.
“The need for our intervention here is yet more evidence that the energy market is not working for consumers,” said Sarah Harrison, senior partner in charge of enforcement at Ofgem.
The whole of the energy retail market is currently being investigated by Ofgem and, we could well some of the biggest energy suppliers being broken up.
As the temperature cools, so might your affection for your energy supplier, and this is often the time people think about switching. However, as everyone who’s ever switched knows, changing energy supplier appears to be a long and laborious process that takes around five weeks- which going from today would take us up until Christmas. However, this is one thing that is about to change, with switching times set to fall to just two and a half weeks.
The 17 day switching time was actually a target set for energy suppliers by Ofgem back in June, and suppliers have until the end of the year to get their fingers out and sort the faster switching. Of course, keen small supplier First Utility has already got its systems sorted, and anyone switching to them from this week onwards will benefit from faster switching. Particularly handy when First Utility are currently topping the best buy energy table.
First Utility have also been asking people what they think. According to Ofgem, 40% of households have never switched energy provider. British Gas must be laughing all the way to the bank. First Utility’s poll suggested that 70% of UK bill payers would be inclined to switch gas and electricity supplier if the process took less time and effort. Because saving money clearly isn’t worth any time and effort for these people…
However, before you get all excited about two-and-a-bit week switching, Ofgem has more dramatic plans up its sleeves. The two weeks plus three days deadline was calculated taking into account the EU imposed 14-day cooling off period for switchers, plus three working days for the energy company to actually effect the switch. But Ofgem are not happy with this either and are working towards one-day switching by the end of 2018 “at the latest”. While the 14 day cooling-off period will remain, Ofgem wants this to run after the switch, as after all, if switching only takes a day, it will be relatively easy to switch back if you change your mind. First Utility’s research showed that 41% of bill payers think switching gas and electricity supplier should take one to two weeks, while 46% think it should take less than a week, highlighting consumer appetite for even faster switching.
Dermot Nolan, Ofgem’s CEO, said: “Consumers can change their bank in seven days, their mobile phone in just a couple, but have to wait significantly longer to switch their energy supplier. We know that consumers want a reliable and efficient switching process, and that concerns about it going wrong can put them off shopping around for a better deal. So now that we have taken steps to make the market simpler, clearer, fairer, we are leading a programme which will deliver faster, more reliable switching.”
Ian McCaig, CEO, First Utility said: “This is an important milestone for the industry… By making it easier to switch supplier, more consumers will be encouraged to seek out the best deals and help to significantly reduce their bills.”
So while First Utility are now pioneers of the medium-faster switching service, we will have to wait and see if all the other suppliers can also step up by the end of the year.
Our friends over at Which! have been very helpful and have calculated the cheapest energy deals on the market at the moment. Although Halloween was actually a heatwave (comparatively speaking), it is now November and it’s going to be time to don the thermal undies and/or twiddle the thermostat sometime soon.
For the first time, all of the top five cheapest deals now come in at under £1,000 (on average estimated usage) AND the top five includes not one, but two of the big six energy suppliers. Which just goes to show that they can be cheaper if they only try hard enough. Nevertheless, the top spot is still held by smaller supplier First Utility.
Of course, whether these tariffs will be cheaper for you will depend on your current tariff and your energy usage, but, based on standard listed tariffs, you could save around £200 on any of these beauties:
1. First Utility iSave Fixed March 2016 (v37) estimated annual cost £960.47
2. Eon Energy Fixed 1 Year v12 £964.65
3. Ovo Energy Better Energy Fixed (Online) £973.33
4. Extra Energy Fresh Fixed Price Dec 2015 v1 £973.65
5. Npower Online Price Fix November 2015 £999.84
The prices listed above are averaged across all regions and are for a dual fuel customer (gas and electricity) paying by monthly Direct Debit and choosing paperless billing, collecting various bonus discounts/cashbacks in the process. The annual costs have been calculated using Ofgem medium consumption figures of 13,500kWh for gas and 3,200kWh for electricity.
It is also worth noting that these are all fixed rate tariffs, which may be preferable and give you some peace of mind, but also means that you won’t benefit from any price cuts during the fix period. And before you scoff, think of all the people who fixed last winter.
As noted above, however, the above prices are estimates and you should use a comparison site to check if these new deals work for you. However, with average energy costs coming in at less than £85 a month, perhaps we can all look forward to a warmer winter.
npower says: “We’re doing this as part of a project from the government. It means we can provide every one of our electricity customers with the same £12 amount. All the other energy suppliers are doing this too.”
“If you pay your electricity bill by direct debit or when we send you a bill, then you’ll see a line on your bill with a £12 credit. You don’t have to do anything.”
“If you’re one of our prepayment customers the process is a little different.”
“Because we can’t yet add the £12 to your prepayment meter automatically we’re sending you a letter to use at your nearest Post Office. You need to take the letter and your prepayment card/key to the Post Office with your identification (listed on the letter), and the staff will top it up for you.”
The Government themselves have prattled on about it and why it is happening and all that. If you’re interested in the ins-and-outs of it all, then click here.
The short version of all this, is that the Government have vowed to lower energy bills for everyone and so, everyone gets £12, which means you can go an buy some beer or a CD from Asda or something.
However, there’s a glimmer of hope for us all as wholesale gas prices in the UK hit a record low today, which means that there’s increased pressure on our beloved energy firms to cut our household bills.
So what’s the latest drop in price all about? Well, Ukraine and Russia have signed a deal which will see Moscow resuming gas supplies over the winter, guaranteeing delivery to the EU. Seeing as Russia provides around a third of Europe’s gas, this is good news.
Thanks to the unseasonably warm weather we’re having this time of year, British households are avoiding putting the heating on, which is also having an impact on bills.
Ofgem have said that they are chasing up Britain’s energy suppliers on why they had not passed the significant falls in wholesale costs on to customers this year.
With all these factors, we might just see some price drops in our bills, but don’t hold your breath.
Windowless planes could soon be a thing if a UK developer gets their way.
The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), has unveiled a video showing the technology, which has the screens replicating what is outside the plane and showing places and points of interest such as other aircraft and the International Space Station in real-time.
The giant, flexible OLED screens will show a real time view of the places you’re flying over, but might get a bit oppressive what with the whole ‘no natural light’ drawback.
However they can be powered down for a kip on long haul flights or show other content like in-flight movies and commercials… which would be a bit like flying in a giant airborne tube of adverts.
Here’s a video about it:
Apparently, the environment – something planes are keen fans of – is the overall winner. Windows in planes actually require the fuselage to be strengthened, and without them planes would be lighter and consume less fuel.
The CPI thinks OLEDs (organic light-emitting diodes) could be harnessed to make the screens, and that this technology will be all over the shop within the next ten years.
Dr Helliwell of the CPI said.”What would be great would be to make devices based on OLEDs that are flexible. We can make transistors that are flexible but if we can make OLEDs that are flexible, that gives us a lot of potential in the market because we can print OLEDs on to packaging, we can create flexible displays,”
“We are talking about [the idea] now because it matches the kind of development timelines that they have in the aerospace industry.
“So you could have a display next to a seat if you wanted it; you could have a blank area next to a seat if you wanted it; you would have complete flexibility as to where you put [the panel screens]. You could put screens on the back of the seats in the middle and link them to the same cameras.”
Fancy that! Keep an eye on Ryanair with this though. They might not give natural light panels, but windowless planes is something you can see them going for.
The government were moved to comment on the unrest that the UK could be thrown back into the 1970s when it was power cuts ahoy. Davey has also claimed that a back-up plan is ready to be set in motion should anything actually go wrong.
One of the plans involve is where firms could be paid to generate their own electricity and factory production could be shifted to non-peak times.
Fears of what was called an ‘energy crunch’ were heightened after several fires and incidents at power stations, along with the closure of others.
Davey said: “We have extra contingencies on top of the caution, and extra contingencies on top of the contingencies.”
“They [the companies] volunteer to get payments – if the National Grid say, ‘we want you to come off the national grid for a few hours and generate your own power’, you will get paid for that. That is cheaper for the consumer than building an extra power plant. Cheaper, quicker and industry likes it.”
“And some companies would change their behaviour, voluntarily, and be recompensed for it. Turning down their refrigerators by a degree, or changing a shift pattern for a week so staff come in earlier… the idea is to move factory production away from peak demand periods.”
The UK is looking down the barrel of an energy crunch over the next two winters when the capacity margin – how much its total generating capacity outstrips expected peak demand – is expected to shrink to as little as 2%.
In addition to all this, Davey also advised households that they could be saving £200 by choosing a new energy tariff: “I want people to get a better deal on their energy bills. Some of the new smaller suppliers are cutting prices and forcing bigger players to respond. Over two million people switched energy supplier between last October and March this year as competition hots up.”
In fantastically shocking news that absolutely no-one was more than well aware of, price comparison sites have been accused for hiding the best deals because they’d rather promote the ones that serve them better. It’s almost like this hasn’t been going on for years!
The Big Deal website have started throwing accusations around (so lawyers, if you’d like to go to them instead of us, that’d be lovely) saying that five of Britain’s biggest price comparison sites are being deceitful.
Well, they’ve said that uSwitch never showed the cheapest deal over the Big Deal’s 13 week investigation, as well as regularly hiding three of the top five cheapest deals.
The sites use mechanisms to “hide deals where they ask users if they want to see deals they can switch to ‘today’ or ‘now’”, according to a statement from The Big Deal. By clicking ’yes’ to this option, the websites remove deals which don’t earn the price comparison sites a commission from the energy companies. Those just happen to be the cheapest deals. The Big Deal says that Money Supermarket and Confused automatically tick the ‘yes’ option.
They also say that Compare the Market and Go Compare automatically show users these results without asking the user, adding that “you have to go through several screens to ‘filter your results’ to see the cheapest deals.”
The bad news for these sites is that hiding deals could well be in breach of EU and UK law.
“Price comparison sites are worth hundreds of millions of pounds, make huge profits and with over 5 million people switching a year are a major part of the energy market,” said The Big Deal co-founders Henry de Zoete and Will Hodson in an open letter to the major price comparison sites. ”Yet there is no transparency to how they make their money or how much they charge. Polling by Populus found that 43% of people did not even realise that the sites charge energy companies a commission.”
uSwitch aren’t having it though, saying: “We are fully accredited under the Ofgem Confidence Code, meaning that our results tables are always ordered by the savings a customer can make in a fair, independent and unbiased way.”
“We are fully supportive of Ofgem’s decision to strengthen the code to ensure that all price comparison websites operate to the same high standard.”
Either way, if this is news to you, make sure you tinker with the settings on any price comparison site of any sort in a bid to make sure it is working for you, rather than the middle man.