Is Spark Energy the worst energy supplier ever?
Sometimes, businesses are so bad it is almost literally beyond belief, and smaller energy supplier Spark Energy has now been fined by Ofgem for falling squarely in that category. The crime? On top of sky-high charges and inaccurate billing systems, Spark Energy simply ignored customers’ requests to leave the supplier and just continued to bill them. Astounding.
An Ofgem investigation found that up to 29,000 households were left facing "eye-watering" inaccurately high bills and "staggeringly bad" customer service and that customers were “prevented” from leaving over a three year period between June 2010 and May 2013.
Many of Spark's customers were tenants in rented accommodation who were signed up automatically by letting agents, and who then found themselves facing the highest pay-monthly tariff on the market. Ofgem’s £250,000 fine also took accounts of billing technologies that were "not reliable and generated inaccurate bills", and yet, a bit like Hotel California, guests at Spark Energy could never leave.
Or could they. It gets even better as it appears some select few customers were permitted to escape Spark’s clutches- but only if they were a customer Spark didn’t want, and then they were switched against their will and without their knowledge. Ofgem documents suggest that only 705 customers were able to leave the supplier. These were customers in debt and between August 2011 and May 2013 Spark used switching websites itself and signed these customers up for different suppliers without their knowledge.
"Customers would not know the transfer had been completed or the identity of the new supplier until they received a welcome letter or email from the new supplier," Ofgem said.
And if all that weren’t enough, Spark also failed to return cash to customers who were in credit in good time and didn’t deal with complaints properly. The company has agreed to pay £250,000 to Citizens Advice in lieu of a larger financial penalty after admitting to breaching a string of regulations.
Ofgem said: "From June 2010 to May 2013, Spark blanket objected to consumers switching their supply contract to another provider. As a result, consumers were unable to… choose a cheaper supplier (which would have been possible for pay monthly customers as Spark was the most expensive supplier during the period).”
"It is clear from the complaints evidence that some customers found their experience with Spark at the time extremely frustrating," Ofgem finished in a totally obvious statement.
A spokesman for Spark Energy said, inadequately: "We welcome the manner in which Ofgem has dealt with these issues. We’ve learned valuable lessons from this process and recognise there were things we should have done differently, and we apologise for these failings.”
He went on: "However we’re pleased Ofgem has recognised the progress we’ve made over the past 21 months to transform our levels of customer service in this complex and difficult market.” We’re just surprised they have any customers left- unless they have all tried unsuccessfully to leave too…