Posts Tagged ‘energy’
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.
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.
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.
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.
Some of you may think this is blindingly obvious, but households are wasting around £80 per year because they don’t switch their televisions and consoles off at night. We are, to the hysterical, A Nation On Standby!
If everyone stopped leaving things on standby, then the country could make savings of £1.7 billion a year according to the Energy Saving Trust.
The survey, ahead of Big Energy Saving Week, found that three-quarters of people polled were worried about their energy bills, so one easy way to reduce them is to make sure that you’re actually turning off gadgets and such, when you’re not using them.
Philip Sellwood, chief executive of the Energy Saving Trust, said: “Whatever your age, gender or the size of your household: our research has found millions of us are unintentionally wasting electricity when we leave our gadgets on standby. It’s an easy mistake to make yet it costs us a fortune.”
“Televisions and games consoles are now among the primary sources of our everyday entertainment, yet when left on permanent standby they are costing £45-£80 a year.”
“I’m not suggesting we get rid. I’m urging people to take back control of their appliances next week and switch off when we aren’t using them.”
It isn’t just leaving stuff on all the time either. Older people are adding to their bills by having rubbish, old fridges. Decrepit appliances are more likely to have faults that make them inefficient. A faulty thermostat on a freezer could be adding £45 to your bills, annually. Getting rid of old-fashioned light bulbs and replacing them with energy efficient ones and halogen lights with LEDs could save you around £45 a year on bills.
And if that doesn’t work, then you should check your provider to make sure you’re getting the best deal from them.
Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey said: “Consumers can make a real difference to their electricity bills by improving energy efficiency at home and Citizens Advice and Energy Saving Trust are there to help. Shopping around for the best energy deal can also make a huge difference.”
“We’ve slashed the vast array of confusing tariffs, so it’s now easier to compare energy prices and switching times will be halved by the end of this year. Households could be saving a further £200 per year just by switching suppliers.”
So there you have it. Stop being daft and save yourself some money. It doesn’t matter if you care for the Earth or not – with the money you save, you could buy a substantial amount of booze, so you know it is worth doing.
Well, customers will save around 3% on their average annual bill by 2030.
The Commons public accounts select committee reckon that this smart meter rollout will cost £10.6 billion for the actual meters, with households paying for the £11 annual running costs, plus the £215 cost of installation.
The committee predicts that consumers will save just 2% on an average annual bill of £1,328 until 2020, rising to £43 a year, or 3% by 2030. Of course, this is only dependent on whether customers are savvy enough to cut their energy consumption.
Who knows what will be going on in 2030? You can bet that the new meters will be redundant and out of date by then. Still, that’s not stopping anyone.
The Department for Energy and Climate Change reckon that households will save £18.5 billion over 20 years if they can see how much their energy is costing them. They overestimate how many people want to sit and gawp at an energy meter after they’ve finished work.
In addition to that, recent cuts to wholesale energy costs haven’t been passed on by the Big Six, so looking at an energy meter will inevitably make you hate your provider more.
Margaret Hodge, the committee chair, said: ‘The costs of installing 53 million smart meters will be borne by consumers through their energy bills. It will cost around £215 per home or small business over the next 15 years to install the meters – an additional cost people can ill afford.”
“Despite consumers footing the bill, they can on average make a saving of only 2% on the average annual bill of £1,328 until 2020. Even this is conditional on consumers changing their behaviour and cutting their energy use. The Department of Energy and Climate Change is relying on the consumer becoming more “savvy” in making decisions about using energy.”
“The department is depending heavily on assumed competition in the energy industry to control costs and deliver benefits. Relying on market forces to keep costs down may not be enough on its own to protect consumers. This is something energy companies don’t have a great track record on. Ofgem’s referral of the energy market to the Competition and Markets Authority reflected serious concerns about the lack
of real competition in the industry.”
The scheme is called MyEnergyCredit and has been launched by Energy UK and comes about thanks to a demand from Ofgem back in February.
Energy UK said that they want customers who have switched suppliers or moved home without leaving a forwarding address to get in touch with their old company if they suspect that they left money in an old account.
So basically, the initiative is: We’ve been sitting on your money for no reason so would you come and get it because we couldn’t be arsed giving it you back at the time.
That said, Energy UK announced changes to try and stop this from happening in the future, but as of now, there’s going to be a two-year deadline for collection of credit. If you don’t claim it, they’ll keep it. The Big Six say they’ll give the money to vulnerable customers, but don’t hold your breath.
Energy UK’s chief executive Angela Knight said: “We are urging former customers to come forward and make a claim. Customers who think they haven’t left a forwarding address or a final meter reading when they moved or switched should contact their old supplier.”
“The web site myenergycredit.com will help you do this. Inevitably, there will be some former customers who will not be found and so the major suppliers are announcing what will happen to credit balances from now on.”
“In future, after two years, the credit balance will be used to help vulnerable customers – and suppliers will make it very clear what is happening.
“By 2018, these new arrangements are expected to add up to around £65m of help to those in difficulties. The suppliers will kick start this process now by donating £38m for the first two years combined.”
Ofgem chief executive Dermot Nolan said: “Today’s industry announcement is an encouraging first step by the six largest energy companies to address Ofgem’s call to reunite customers with their cash. It is good news for consumers and if you think you could be owed money we recommend that you contact your previous supplier.”
“This issue is part of a wider challenge of delivering good customer service that the industry must crack if they are to rebuild customer trust and confidence. Failure to deliver on the initiatives announced today could trigger further action by Ofgem, including enforcement.”
npower are now allowed to continue making telesales calls to everyone after they cleared enough late bills, after Ofgem set them a target. The regulator basically said ‘sort that backlog out or we’re taking your mobile off you, and you can have it back at the end of term.’
The company had a backlog of 96,700 late bills at the end of August. Ofgem had ordered them to get below 100,000, as well as launching an investigation into the energy company. The only good thing about this, is that a load of staff might have got some lovely overtime.
While npower are allowed to make telesales calls, Ofgem haven’t called off the investigation. There’s still the issue of the woeful new billing system which initially saw npower getting three times the amount of complaints than the next company.
Now, the energy firm assure everyone that there’s only 62,000 customers awaiting late bills.
Roger Hattam, npower’s domestic retail director, said: “I’m pleased that we have met our commitment made in June to reach our billing performance target. We’re now billing over 98% of customers on time. However, the journey doesn’t stop here as we’re working hard to make even more improvements.”
Sarah Harrison, senior partner in charge of enforcement said: “Ofgem is encouraged to see that npower has met our targets aimed at reducing late bills and we note their progress on reducing complaint numbers. But this is only a first step to turning round their customer service and billing performance. We will monitor their progress and continue our investigation into the reasons why npower’s problems occurred.”
That’s the vibe The National Grid are giving out, as they’ve asked electricity suppliers to indicate how much more spare capacity they have for peak times this Winter.
It wants to be sure that it can muster through each side of Christmas without plunging us all into blackouts.
This scheme has been brought forward by a year, as the Grid have been coping with plant repairs, fires and closures of main power stations.
The idea that the country could face power cuts is going to put the shit up the government, who are already aware that a less-than-fully operational power generation is likely to cause issues.
As part of the greener incentives brought in, new power plants are taking their sweet time to get up to full capacity, while older, more polluting plants become decommissioned.
The jolly sounding Cordi O’Hara, National Grid’s director of UK market operations, reckons: ”At this stage we don’t know if these reserve services will be needed, but they could provide an additional safeguard.”
Power generators would have to prove they’d be available to provide additional electricity between 7am and 9pm from November to February, the months with the highest demand for the likes of lights and heating.
Still, at least bored couples can get off with each other during Christmas powercuts, which means even more September babies, eh?
EDF Energy have been gits and Ofgem has slapped their legs by ordering them to pay £3 million in compensation to benefit “vulnerable customers” after they’d been found guilty of breaching complaint handling rules.
The investigation followed an increase of more than 30% in the levels of complaints recorded by the company during the the introduction of a new IT system in 2011.
Ofgem found that, between May 2011 and January 2012, EDF didn’t have sufficient or correct procedures in place to adequately deal with, process, record and receive, all complaints in accordance with handling rules.
In English, that means customers had unacceptably long waiting times when calling them to tell EDF they are rubbish.
And if you wanted them to follow up your complaint, that wasn’t happening either.
When customers finally got through, EDF didn’t even make a record of all the required details for the complaints. Basically, customers may as well stuck their hand out of the window and tried to finger the moon.
Sarah Harrison, Ofgem’s senior partner for enforcement, said: “EDF Energy failed to have sufficiently robust processes in place when they introduced a new IT system and this led to the unacceptable handling of complaints. Their commitment to putting things right and paying £3m to the Citizens Advice Energy Best Deal Extra scheme and the Plymouth Citizen Advice Bureau’s Debt Helpline to benefit vulnerable customers is a step in the right direction to rebuilding consumer trust.”