Posts Tagged ‘energy’

article 1725351 07264249000005DC 817 468x286 300x183 Energy staff issued with stab vests because everyone hates themEveryone hates energy companies so much, that the people they hire to read everyone’s meters are being issued with stab vests.

It has been reported that 400 or so staff at British Gas and EDF Energy have been given body armour in case someone attacks them. Of course, no-one should be in fear of getting stabbed for simply doing their job, but then, even this hasn’t seen the powers that be thinking that there might be a problem with how much they’re charging: they see issuing stab vests as a solution, rather than making their products affordable.

The vests are being given to staff tasked with investigating energy theft, or those who have to fit homes with pre-payment meters to sort out customers who are in debt.

“Electricity and gas theft is a serious crime which puts lives at risk and adds unnecessary costs to customers’ bills. Because of the nature of the work our energy theft teams do, we’ve made protective clothing available to them,” said a spokesperson for British Gas.

A spokesman for EDF Energy added: “Our staff are issued with stab vests when carrying out debt-related customer visits or visits where the meter has been tampered with.”

Obviously, attacks are rare, and most customers vent their anger in the traditional way – shouting down the phone and the like – but really, this is a bleak indictment of the state of the energy market in the UK.

E.ON to close power station

June 19th, 2015 5 Comments By Mof Gimmers

eon energy bulb 300x184 E.ON to close power stationAround 500 jobs are at risk, after E.ON decided to close the Killingholme power station in North Lincolnshire. And yes, there’s a place called Killing Home. We hope there’s a village nearby called Murder Bed or something.

Anyway, back to the serious business. E.ON have said that market conditions for both gas and coal-fired electricity generation were “very challenging” and that they are too big to overcome.

The power station at Killingholme had previously been mothballed, but it ended up being returned to service in 2005.

Tony Cocker, chief executive of E.ON UK, said: “My main priority is our colleagues at Killingholme and we will continue to do all we can to help them through this difficult and uncertain time.”

“I would also like to thank everyone who has made a contribution to Killingholme throughout its lifetime – from the time the power station was a plan on a drawing board through to the team that will continue at the site in the months ahead to ensure it remains safe and secure. Ultimately, the decision to close the power station is not one we have taken lightly and, as our actions have shown, we have exhausted every possible option to try to keep the plant viable.”

“The reality, however, is that market conditions for both gas-fired electricity generation and coal-fired are very challenging and in this particular case too big to overcome which has resulted in 900MW of generation capacity being permanently removed from the UK’s power network.”

The unions aren’t best pleased, with GMB’s Phil Whitehurst saying: “This is bad news for at least 500 workers and their families in the supply chain who operate, service and maintain what is a viable combined cycle gas turbine station that has years of life left in it.”

“New low carbon generating capacity is needed but we are watching a funding crisis develop around building new power stations in the UK. We need a long-term plan for energy in UK. Leaving it to the market won’t work.”

energy bills 300x300 Ofgem reveals most complained about energy companies and small isnt necessarily bestWe’re all always hearing about the big bad big six energy companies, and all the hundreds of thousands of complaints they receive every year from dissatisfied customers. However, what comparisons of straight complaint numbers does not factor in is the fact that the big six have many more customers than the smaller energy firms. Now, for the first time, the ombudsman has published the first set of quarterly figures ranking the number of accepted complaints for the 10 largest energy companies in the UK per 100,000 customers. And the results are interesting.

The data is published in the form of one-page summaries of complaints data by energy company, and when the details are compiled into a table, some of the placings might come as a surprise. The full top (or bottom) ten is as follows:

Scottish Power

173.0

Npower

65.5

First Utility

39.4

Co-operative Energy

19.6

Ovo

14.5

Eon

13.0

EDF

8.7

British Gas

8.1

Utility Warehouse

5.7

SSE

4.2

 

However, the fact that serial offender Scottish Power has the unhappiest customers is unlikely to be startling, dwarfing the rest of the table with its massive 173.02 complaints per 100,000 between January and March 2015.  However, fellow big sixer SSE has actually had the fewest complaints referred to and accepted by the ombudsman, at just 4.16 per 100,000 customers, upheld in the same quarter.

Similarly, the smaller energy companies are perceived as more customer friendly, yet First Utility comes in third for most complaints, at 39.4 per 100,000, followed by Co-operative Energy and Ovo on 19.56 and 14.46 complaints respectively, making them less effective at keeping customers happy than three of the Big Six, Eon, EDF and British Gas.

Chief Ombudsman, Lewis Shand Smith, commented: “The publishing of this data for the first time puts consumers in complete control of their energy provision, giving them greater transparency about the complaints that we receive about energy companies… For the first time this means we can publish not only the numbers of complaints, but also by company name. Energy companies have already made great strides to better inform consumers and this will help ensure consumer grievances are addressed quickly.”

Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, also commented on the table, saying “Our research shows energy companies are among the worst for resolving complaints, so suppliers need to start turning this round to improve on the low levels of trust in the industry.”

 

 

lightbulb 219x300 Comparison sites questioned by Ofgem over price fixingWe’re used to energy companies being villainous in their dealings with poor, cold consumers, but what is more grating is when self-proclaimed consumer champions are found out to be dodgy dealing as well. Two price comparison sites found themselves hit where it hurts (in the share price) over concerns surrounding an Ofgem investigation.

This week, price comparison website MoneySupermarket.com admitted it had been asked to provide information to the energy regulator to help establish whether to include it as part of an ongoing  enquiry. Ofgem had previously announced that it was investigating whether two or more companies that providing a “supporting service” for the energy industry were in breach of competition law. In simple terms, Ofgem suspect the price comparison sites were price-fixing with each other. Which is not normally something a bona-fide consumer champion would do.

The investigation could take “a number of months” and if found guilty, the companies could be fined “up to 10% of prior-year group revenue,” according to analysts at UBS bank. Moneysupermarket.com’s stock dropped by almost 10% at the news, and Zoopla, who own uSwitch,who are also ‘helping Ofgem with their enquiries’ also suffered a further 5% fall in their share price,despite news of their investigation on the issue having already leaked out.

Ofgem are reportedly keen to downplay the involvement of the comparison sites, whose income derives almost wholly from advertising on their sites and commissions paid on switches, as they don’t want to put consumers off using them. While comparison sites are, in principle, a good thing for consumers, and Ofgem is keen to get people checking the competitiveness of their bills, savvy consumers will always remember that in a market-driven company there has to be something in it for the comparison makers. After all, they are not, shackle-free consumer champions in reality, but listed companies with shareholders looking for a return to answer to…

Household energy debt passes £500m

June 3rd, 2015 No Comments By Mof Gimmers

about british gas image Household energy debt passes £500mIt has been reported that nearly 4 million households in the UK owe £507m to energy firms, between themselves. That’s up 9% on last year, which shows that energy firms aren’t doing enough, despite dropping bills, which were too high in the first instance.

In a survey conducted by uSwitch, they discovered that the number of homes that had fallen in energy debt had grown by 260,000. 30% said that they actually owed their energy company more than they did than a year ago, which is pretty grim news.

The average debt per household is £130, even though over half (54%) of consumers saying that they’d been rationing their energy use in a bid to keep bills down. Considering that the average temperature over winter was the warmest in years, it shows that the current tariffs aren’t working.

One of the problems is that energy bills are still confusing everyone, with customers still struggling to switch accounts (we’ve got advice on how to switch). The new energy and climate change Secretary Amber Rudd has written to suppliers asking for further cuts, and of course, the energy sector is looking at a competition inquiry.

uSwitch director of consumer policy, Ann Robinson said: “Not only are more households in the red to their energy supplier, but the amount they owe has gone up, despite the recent price cuts. Energy suppliers must urgently pass on double-digit reductions to their customers – many of whom have admitted to going cold this winter in an attempt to keep their bills down.”

ofgem logo1 Ofgem says Energy firms should take better care of customers in debtEnergy firms are under the spotlight again. After being called out for making too much money last week, now the energy regulator Ofgem has issued a statement slapping the wrists of energy firms who are too quick to force prepay meters (PPMs) on customers struggling to pay, saying that energy should do “all they can to support customers” and to “protect” vulnerable customers who are in danger of self-disconnecting.

Of course, energy firms are always cast in a villainous light, but given the “increase in the number of PPMs installed for non-payment of debt”, Ofgem are now going to “investigate” why the numbers are rising. Ofgem have today stated, very clearly, that “installing pre-payment meters under warrant should be used as a last resort by energy suppliers when consumers get into debt. It is a way to prevent a customer from being disconnected. Suppliers can only install a prepayment meter where it is safe and reasonably practical for the consumer to use.”

It seems that Ofgem suspect that energy companies are not using PPMs as a way to help their customers out of a sticky situation, but are instead leaning on people in order to get their money faster. Ofgem have also said that energy firms might not currently be doing “all they can to support customers struggling to pay” and recommend that, before resorting to PPMs, firms should offer energy efficiency advice and signposting to social support, in line with Ofgem’s own commitment to work with Citizen’s Advice to help identify and protect vulnerable customers. They also want to see common sense applied when setting outstanding debt repayments on the meter, making sure these are at an affordable level “taking into consideration the customers’ financial circumstances.”

In addition, Ofgem note that some energy firms seem to be making it difficult for PPM customers to switch suppliers, even where switching would help customers who are struggling with bills. Ofgem want PPM switching to be easier and they are formalising  energy suppliers’ current voluntary practice of allowing PPM customers with a debt of up to £500 per fuel to switch, by making it an obligation.

But of course, it’s easy for Ofgem to say these things and the energy companies to nod sagely and agree, without actually doing anything differently. However Ofgem is also going to require firms to evidence their practices and the actions they have taken to protect customers, particularly where there is additional ‘vulnerability’. For example, if customers are relying on energy for medical reasons, or have mobility problems that limit their ability to access the prepayment meter or top up the meter, the supplier will not be allowed to install a prepayment meter.

So what do you think? Should energy customers do more, or should customers take more responsibility for paying their own energy costs or face the punitive PPMs? Does it make a difference if we’re talking about a pensioner in a freezing cold home, or a working-age family?

Are energy companies ripping us off?

May 22nd, 2015 1 Comment By Mof Gimmers

energy Are energy companies ripping us off?It goes without saying that energy companies in the UK have been charging everyone a lot of money in their bills, and there’s a good chance they’ve been overcharging too. Legally, we leave the latter statement ambiguous, but you get where we’re coming from.

Ofgem, who are looking into all this, has referred the entire energy market to the Competition and Markets Authority, because there needs to be a formal investigation over the prices that everyone is paying. Are they artificially high?

Someone thinks so.

All eyes are on how much money is being made, and concerning SSE, they’ve seen profits shooting up by 40%, leaving everyone to wonder how they managed it. Of course, they’re not alone and data from Ofgem shows that (click here to see Ofgem’s lengthy report, complete with some graphs).

The Indy decided to crunch some of the numbers and statistics and came up with their own graph, which is more digestible.

energy graph Are energy companies ripping us off?

Basically, the energy companies get £120 from your combined gas and electricity charges every year, which is up from 2009′s figure of £10. That’s a big ol’ jump. The problem is that The Big Six have lowered their prices, but no nearly as much as the drop in wholesale prices. If you look at gas, bills have fallen by a couple of percent, while the cost of the companies buying it has dropped by 20% – the savings are not being passed on.

An Ofgem spokesperson says: “Falls in wholesale energy prices have resulted in significantly better deals for consumers on fixed tariffs but the majority of consumers who are on standard variable tariffs do not appear to have benefited to the same extent. We look forward to seeing the CMA’s draft findings and recommendations in the coming weeks.”

sse SSE loses half a million accounts (and blames everyone else)SSE have managed to lose 500,000 accounts, blaming what they call the “increasingly challenging and highly competitive market conditions”.

Maybe people were ditching them because they kept putting their prices up, and overcharged tens of thousands of customers, and were investigated for alleged breaches in competition laws.

That said, SSE won’t care because, despite losing half-a-million customers, they still managed to report a 39% increase in profits through their retail arm. After a number of price hikes, they pledged to freeze prices until next summer.

That’s if the government makes things easier for them.

The company said: “SSE would like to extend its price freeze again, or even cut prices if further costs can be taken out of energy supply, and will work with the new UK Government or indeed any stakeholder to find such solutions.”

While all this is going on, the Competition and Markets Authority is currently in the middle of an in-depth probe into the energy market, as there are suspicions that customers have been treated unfairly by the UK’s dominant big six energy suppliers. We’re expecting a lot of fines to be handed out in 2015/6.

energy Scottish Power gets highest number of complaints ever, with a hike of 488%As far as a UK energy company is concerned, Scottish Power has received the highest number of complaints EVER, according to new figures. They’ve seen complaints going up by a whopping 488%, according to Citizens Advice.

1,163 customers per 100,000 complained about Scottish Power in the last quarter of last year, which is the largest amount of people moaning in any one quarter. And what has caused all this? The reason is largely because of the supplier’s new billing system.

While complaints across the sector are going down, Scottish Power are reversing the trend and were banned from proactive sales in March after failing to meet customer service targets set by Ofgem, who had found that the company hadn’t made sufficient improvements regarding customer complaints.

Npower must be thrilled as they’re usually heading up the table for being the most complained about energy company. For the first two quarters of 2014, they were, but Scottish Power’s dreadfulness saw them taking the top spot in the second half of the year.

Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said: “New billing systems are routinely failing energy customers. In the last few years, four of the largest firms have introduced new billing systems, and their implementation has caused chaos for consumers. Thousands of customers have been hit by delayed and incorrect bills which have resulted in extreme frustration and significant debts.”

“It’s encouraging that Npower is now turning the corner, but Scottish Power still has a very long way to go.”

Neil Clitheroe, chief executive of Scottish Power retail and generation, said: “We apologise unreservedly to any customers who have experienced account issues. These statistics reflect service problems in the last six months of 2014, when we had our most challenging period following the introduction of a new £200 million customer IT system.”

“To make improvements we have added 700 new customer service advisers and we worked closely with Ofgem on call waiting times, outstanding bills and ombudsman complaints. We also agreed with Ofgem to stop outbound sales for a two week period. Recently our call answering times have been among the best in the industry and outstanding complaints have been reduced significantly. We remain fully committed to resolving outstanding issues and ensuring that no customers will be left out of pocket.”

gas flame 243x300 Can you find the cheapest energy deals with a little help from your friends?The cheapest energy deals can’t be found on suppliers’ websites. Nor on comparison site tables. Despite falling energy prices, the best energy deals are actually being reserved for groupon-style collective switching deals. Power to the people.

Fixed energy tariffs are standing at a ten year low and have dropped below £900 a year –the cheapest deal on the market currently being £899 from GB Energy Supply for an average family usage. However, there are cheaper deals available by signing up to one of the growing number of collective switching programmes, where, a bit like price-drop TV, energy companies compete to offer the lowest tariff to a defined group of committed switchers.

An £876 tariff offer by the Telegraph (newpaper) has just sold out, snapped up by 8,000 people, and today, online comparison service uSwitch has offered a matching tariff with E.On which is available for group switchers until May 23.

The idea is, of course, that the energy companies benefit by instantly getting thousands of new customers without having to woo potential switchers with pricey advertising campaigns. And they’re still making money, as these cheapest deals are actually £419 cheaper than the average energy bill owing to the fact that three quarters of customers are on standard tariffs.

But how likely is it that the lowest collective tariffs are pinching at the profits of the energy giants anyway? Global crude oil prices are less than half what they were in mid-2014 prices, but energy bills are still flying relatively high, resulting in a Government investigation in January into why energy bills were not falling despite a drop in wholesale costs.

The “big six” energy firms claim they buy wholesale gas and oil months in advance, so absolutely totally cannot pass these savings on to consumers straightaway. And we all remember how they didn’t pass on any earlier increases in the wholesale costs as well…

There has been some movement, even in standard tariffs, with “token” price cuts that reduced annual bills by around £35 a year. However, research by our friends over at Which!!!, used hedging models to allow for such short- and long-term forward planning, and they think there is still scope for lower prices, suggesting that gas costs could drop by at least 8.8% and that a standard electricity tariff could fall by 10%

So if you’re looking to switch your energy bills, keep your eye out for a collective bandwagon upon which to jump, and if your fix is finishing soon, watch out for, possibly, even lower prices on the horizon.

energy bills 300x300 Energy companies still confusing customers who want to switchSwitching energy bills is supposed to be getting easier for consumers, so they can get the best deals, but it is clear that this isn’t the case as confusing tariffs and poorly presented billing information is stopping too many people from getting a package that is right for them.

So says a report by the CentreForum think-tank, compiled for comparethemarket.com. Of course, a lot of price comparison sites aren’t helping either, as they’ve been helping themselves, rather than you.

Despite Ofgem’s efforts, switching rates in the UK have been on the decline because the whole process is just too complicated. The report shows that the biggest problem for energy customers is the “deliberately confusing way that suppliers present information”.

Bills are presented in a way that is too complex and tariff descriptions were “buried in cryptic terminology, making like-for-like comparisons extremely difficult”.

The report invented a new word, saying that this ”confusopoly” is preventing fair and effective competition in the energy market, which of course, is leading everyone into being “ripped off”.

CentreForum think that Ofgem’s new Tariff Comparison Rate (TCR) should be given the chop or, at least, better communicated, because it could be “misinterpreted as an accurate comparison tool for all consumers” rather than the average customer. They’d also like to see a standardised Tariff Information Label, all put on one singular page, to allow people to make faster, better informed choices about their supplier.

The report’s author and associate director for economic policy at CentreForum, Tom Papworth, said: “The obfuscatory way that information is presented by energy companies acts as a significant barrier to switching supplier. Customers frequently complain about receiving too much information and having too much choice, rather than too little. Bills are complex and like-for-like comparisons difficult.”

“An overhaul of some of Ofgem’s Retail Market Review recommendations as we suggest would therefore clearly benefit consumers.”

Comparethemarket head of energy James Padmore said: “The report underlines the fact that the energy market is broken. Consumers struggle to make sense of energy bills and too many remain on uncompetitive tariffs because they are unsure of how to compare deals based on their current usage and expenditure.”

“We estimate that if everyone moved to the best energy tariff for them, the ‘energy dividend’ back into the pockets of UK consumers would be in the region of £4 billion – an indication of the overpayments caused by automatically rolling on to standard tariffs and not reviewing bills. Consumers need to be able to compare tariffs like for like and make informed decisions about the best deal for them. The report we have commissioned clearly shows that, at present, the energy industry falls woefully short of this requirement.”

Eon fined £7.75m

April 2nd, 2015 No Comments By Mof Gimmers

eon energy bulb 300x184 Eon fined £7.75mOfgem have slapped a £7.75m penalty on Eon, after they repeatedly and incorrectly charged exit fees and overcharged customers after sticking their prices up.

This is the fourth largest payment made to Ofgem, who will be passing the money on to Citizens Advice. Eon have already coughed-up £400,000 to affected customers.

So what happened? Well, under Ofgem’s rules, suppliers have to give customers 30 days’ notice of price increases, so that they can switch to another provider before the rises come into play. Exit fees and higher tariffs should not be levied if consumers have said that they’re going to leave for another company.

These errors from Eon relate to their price hikes in January 2013 and January 2014. They’ve paid back an average of £8 and £12 to around 40,000 customers already, but that’s not good enough. Of course, Eon have already been fined £12m for violating sales rules.

Sarah Harrison, Ofgem’s senior partner in charge of enforcement, said it was “vital that suppliers play by the rules so customers are encouraged to engage in the market.”

“It is important that Eon has repaid potentially affected customers and co-operated with the investigation,” she added; “However, it’s absolutely unacceptable that Eon failed to provide these vital customer protections yet again and this persistent failure is the reason for the high penalty.”

The energy market needs an overhaul!

March 31st, 2015 No Comments By Mof Gimmers

20050820052737Energy Arc central electrode of a Plasma Lamp 300x235 The energy market needs an overhaul!The next government, whoever that might be, need to commit to energy efficiency, and not muck about by being weak wristed, like we’ve seen thus far, in a bid to stop UK homes from losing money, needlessly.

That’s according to a new Which!!! report, which says that the UK’s housing stock continues to be among Europe’s least energy-efficient thanks to poor insulation. In ‘A Local Approach to Energy Efficiency’, the watchdog says that Government figures from December show (up to) 5.4 million homes still don’t have their cavities filled and up to 7.4 million still need their lofts sorted out.

On top of this, Age UK reckon that the NHS spends £1.36 billion every year on treating illnesses caused by – and made worse by – cold houses.

Which!!! would like to see the country adopting a long-term approach, which would be funded in part by a levy on energy suppliers, and then put into a pot where funds can be allocated to local authorities. The report also calls for an overhaul of the Green Deal, after it transpired that only 399 plans had been taken on (on average) per month since the launch of the project.

Bigwig at Which!!!, Richard Lloyd, said: “With millions of homes still not insulated, energy efficiency is a collective failure of successive governments. The next Government must grab this issue by the scruff of the neck and commit to an aggressive energy efficiency strategy as soon as it takes power.”

“We want to see radical improvements to the roll out, funding and take-up of energy efficiency measures so people can enjoy warmer homes, lower bills and better health.”

energy Miliband wants to give Ofgem the power to cut billsEd Miliband – a man who looks like someone stuck a nose on an uncooked gammon steak – is pledging to make our energy bills drop and he wants to give Ofgem more power to railroad energy companies. It is thought that this will be worth £100 to each household.

The leader of the opposition has already vowed to introduce an energy bill price cap, which will freeze bills until 2017. Labour reckons this will cut annual bills by £120, but with this new proposal, savings would be nearly double. Big talk.

Of course, this is all dependent on Labour winning the general election and, seeing as that doesn’t seem likely, Miliband may as well promise a robot sex maid for every house in the universe. On the chance that Labour do win, they will give Ofgem new legal duties to review energy prices and the power to order reductions in price if they find energy companies aren’t passing on savings.

Labour have promised that this will be fast-tracked so end overcharging by The Big Six. Of course, the energy companies have just dropped their prices, which makes all this chat lack the impact it would have last year.

It has been reported that Miliband is going to say: “What better evidence do we need of the chronic overcharging, the broken market and the ripoffs being faced by millions of families and businesses across Britain?”

“The vital link between the wealth of our nation and working families has been broken. It’s been 18 months since I announced the next Labour government would freeze energy bills – so they can only go down and not up – until 2017 while we reset this broken market. In those months we first heard loud protests from the big six energy firms and their PR guys in the government. Then we saw prices continue to rocket upwards, unchecked by the government.”

“Now something else is happening. The costs of energy are tumbling down, not because of anything the government or the big six energy firms have done, but because of global changes in oil and gas supply. The cost of energy to the big six firms fell by 20%. Your gas bill fell by between 1 and 5%. Your electricity bill probably hasn’t fallen at all.”

“Even the PR guys for the big six – David Cameron and George Osborne – admit this is a problem. But they have not acted and the whole country knows why. It’s because they will never stand up to powerful interests and they never stand up for you.”

It is a popular topic though, with chancellor George Osborne promising to watch The Big Six “like a hawk”, and no-one cares about what the LibDems think.

Scottish Power hit with sales ban

March 4th, 2015 No Comments By Mof Gimmers

scottish power Scottish Power hit with sales banScottish Power have been slapped with a sales ban after they failed to meet Ofgem’s customer service targets. The energy provider was told to clear all their outstanding Energy Ombudsman decisions regarding customer complaints, but they didn’t.

They were asked to answer customers’ calls more quickly, reduce a backlog of bills and sort out outstanding ombudsman rulings. As such, the 12-day sales ban means the company can’t engage in “proactive sales” from today.

The energy company said that they are “committed to delivering the best service possible and treating our customers fairly”.

Sarah Harrison, Ofgem’s senior partner in charge of enforcement, said: “A sales ban illustrates the difficulties Scottish Power is having in delivering the levels of service customers deserve. While Ofgem’s targets have driven significant improvements in Scottish Power’s performance, we remain very concerned about how customers are being treated.”

Scottish Power say: ”We have successfully delivered two of the targets. In relation to the target of having zero ombudsman remedies over 28 days, we cleared 2,575 cases during November and, at 1 December, the Ombudsman confirmed that we have achieved the zero target.”

“However, subsequently it was identified that 30 cases had been closed incorrectly. We sincerely apologise to these customers for these errors. The cases were immediately fixed on discovery. In line with our original voluntary commitment and with the agreement of Ofgem, we will now stop outbound selling from 4 March until 15 March.”