- Regulator Ofgem has criticized energy companies over service levels
- The energy watchdog is now introducing new rules for businesses to follow
- These rules will force energy companies to indicate payment plans and holidays on invoices
Regulator Ofgem has ordered energy companies to improve customer service, especially for vulnerable and indebted customers.
The new rules, which go into effect Dec. 14, require energy companies to contact customers if they don’t make two monthly payments or one quarterly payment.
Energy companies should ask if customers are having problems with bills and, if so, offer them support, such as affordable payment plans or payment holidays.
Ofgem is also ordering energy companies to publish Citizens Advice ratings of their customer service so the public can see how they compare on issues such as call waiting times and quality of answers.
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.
‘However, despite this, the feeling from those on the front line working with vulnerable households is that there is still much to do.
‘Long waiting times to speak to someone on the phone. Unanswered letters. Lack of empathy for people’s personal circumstances. This must change and today we set out our expectations for suppliers this winter and how they will be held to account to ensure consumers can access them more easily.
“We expect more proactivity and a more understanding response, especially from vulnerable customers.”
The energy regulator also wants to draw up stricter rules for customer service next year.
Earlier this year, Ofgem warned that it had become “increasingly difficult” for customers to even find someone to speak to at their energy company, despite many good examples.
The regulator said that “customer service from suppliers generally does not meet the needs of many consumers” and highlighted call waiting times and the ease of speaking to energy companies’ 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 fees.
In June, Ofgem ordered energy company E.On Next to pay £5m in compensation for “serious weaknesses” in customer service.
Then in August, Ofgem told Ovo Energy it needed to improve its handling of complaints, after a Citizens Advice team working with vulnerable customers raised “serious concerns”.
Pressure has increased on Ofgem to act on the Bristol-based energy company after This is Money sent it a dossier of 200 customer complaints in recent months, with many of them believing they are not being billed correctly.
Gillian Cooper, head of energy policy at Citizens Advice, said: “Aggressive debt collection by energy suppliers can make the plight of struggling households much worse.
‘In an era of high energy prices and record energy debts, treating customers fairly is more important than ever. Any company that disappoints its customers should rightly expect enforcement action.
‘Ofgem is also right to ensure that customers in difficulty can easily contact their supplier. Poor performance here will be reflected in our star rating, which all suppliers will now be required to publish.
“If you have an energy debt, it is important to speak to your supplier as soon as possible.”