Energy ombudsman shows how to keep heat on your supplier

radiator

I often hear from people how they think an ombudsman hasn’t been fair or impartial in their case. Most frequently I hear the criticism that the ombudsman always sees in favour of the trader because the trader pays for membership. What people don’t realise is that’s the only way an ombudsman can be funded! But more importantly what people don’t realise is that they not only do they pay for yearly membership but they also pay per case whilst the customer pays nothing. So it is in the company’s interest for a case not to go to the ombudsman.

Sometimes, people approach the ombudsman with issues outside of their remit. Typically:

  • The complaint has been made too late – complainants have 12 months from the date the supplier issues its final response (known as a deadlock letter) to raise the issue with the ombudsman.
  • The complaint has been made prematurely (less than 8 weeks from the initial complaint or no deadlock letter received) – complainants need to raise the issue with the supplier and give them an opportunity to put things right before the ombudsman can become involved.
  • The trader does not participate in the ombudsman’s scheme.
  • The complaint is about a product or service which does not fall inside the ombudsman’s jurisdiction.

So, you have your issue, it falls within the remit and you still don’t get the decision you wanted so what do you do? I’ve asked Lewis Shand Smith the Chief Ombudsman at Ombudsman Services to share the traps people fall into and how to make a stronger case when submitting their issue. He looks at energy in particular but the points are valid for all sectors.

Head shot Lewis Shand SmithLewis Shand Smith Biography

Lewis Shand Smith was appointed Chief Executive and Chief Ombudsman of Ombudsman Services in 2009. Ombudsman Services is a not for profit organisation which resolves disputes in the energy, communications, property, and copyright licensing sectors, amongst others. Lewis was also the Chair of the Ombudsman Association. Previously he was the Crown appointed Deputy Ombudsman and a member of the Executive Board at the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO). He is a priest in the Scottish Episcopal church and has served several congregations in Motherwell, Shetland and Dumfries. He was a Canon of St Andrew’s cathedral in Aberdeen. From 1990 to 1999 Lewis was a member of Shetland Islands Council, becoming Convener/Leader in 1994. He has served as a non-executive director or trustee with a number of companies and charities. He is a former Vice President of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, was a member of the Executive of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, and represented the UK on the European Committee of the Regions.

Submitting cases to an Ombudsman service

Ombudsman Services receives complaints in a variety of forms. There are complaints the energy supplier would have resolved if the right person had picked it up. There are complaints where the parties agree on the facts – but disagree on an appropriate remedy. There are complaints where the parties fundamentally disagree on the facts. And there are complaints where neither party has yet been able to understand what happened.

In the period November 2016 to October 2017, Ombudsman Services closed 49,117 energy complaints. Of those, it helped resolve 8% without investigating because the energy company was willing to provide the consumer with their desired resolution.

Of the complaints that Ombudsman Services investigated, it:

  • upheld 66% (finding that the energy supplier had done something wrong and had not done enough to put it right).
  • maintained 26% (finding that although the energy supplier had done something wrong, it had already offered a fair resolution to the customer).
  • did not uphold 8% of complaints, (concluding that there was no substance to the original complaint and the energy supplier had treated the customer fairly).

These figures suggest that the majority of complaints needed Ombudsman Services intervention to ensure a fair remedy for the consumer. But many could have been resolved without Ombudsman Services’ help. In most cases, the complaints reached Ombudsman Services because of a failure in the energy supplier’s complaint handling; but some could have benefited from better complaining from the consumer – or the consumer accepting a resolution that was already fair.

So, below are some common reasons why consumer actions mean a complaint is not resolved with the energy company – along with some advice on how not to fall into the traps.

5 top tips for ensuring you have the best case if you need the ombudsman on picture of electricity pylon

 

  1. Focusing on the problem, not the solution

It is very easy to focus on what went wrong and how it should never have happened. But a complaint normally only ends successfully when the wronged party focusses on what needs to be done to put things right. So, before you complain, think about what you would like your supplier to do to resolve your complaint – and let the supplier know.

 

  1. Disbelieving accurate responses

When things go wrong, people lose trust. So people often lack confidence in energy company’s answers. It can be worth seeking advice online or from friends and family. This can sometimes provide the reassurance consumers desire without the need for an ombudsman investigation.  See All you need to know to make a complaint about energy for advice, tips, information and consumer rights regarding energy complaints and  the Ombudsman website for Energy complaint advice and cases. 

  1. Unreasonable expectations / asking for bills or balances to be wiped

Energy suppliers do offer financial awards – but they are normally goodwill gestures to acknowledge what went wrong. Energy suppliers rarely relate awards to the size of a consumer’s outstanding balance.

Ombudsman Services applies similar principles in our complaint handling. Customers should pay the correct amount for the energy they have consumed. If something has gone wrong and a financial award is due – the amount will be proportionate to the trouble the consumer experienced – not the outstanding account balance.

  1. Failing to engage with an energy supplier

Poor energy supplier responses can leave consumers feeling that the problem won’t be resolved without help. But Ombudsman Services can only help after a consumer has tried to resolve the problem with the energy supplier direct for several weeks. As frustrating as it is, consumers should plug away with the energy company. Be clear about what the problem is and what needs to be done to put it right. Check out 20 Top Tips for complaining effectively to increase your chances before needing the Ombudsman. Hopefully someone at the energy company will understand the complaint and correct the problem. This will mean a far quicker resolution than if you go to the Ombudsman.

  1. Becoming too invested in the complaint

If a consumer feels they’ve been wronged, they’re likely to tell people about it. Sometimes it turns out that the consumer is at fault, and in such circumstances, it can be difficult for consumers to admit their error to other people on the complaint journey. They can reach for excuses and/or change the substance of their complaint so as not to lose face. This rarely leads to success and escalating to Ombudsman Services can sometimes prolong and increase the disappointment. If a consumer realises that they are wrong, there is sometimes value in not continuing the complaint.

If consumers feel wronged they should always complain; but they should do so in a focused way and seek a proportionate outcome.

How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!For tips on writing that initial complaint see Top 20 Tips How to Complain!

 

For information, advice, consumer law and template letters GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!

 

 

15 Great Words to Use in Complaints

Here is a list of excellent words that I frequently use in complaint correspondence. Remember you should remain objective when it comes to describing events but you can say how you felt about them. Don’t exaggerate. Various words carry differing levels of strength so you should use what you believe is proportionate. Use these words carefully. More tips about how to complain effectively here.

Often used with “really”,  “absolutely”, “blatantly” and “utterly”
disgusted/disgusting
appalled/appalling
stunned/stunning
amazed/amazing
astounded/astounding
flabbergasted
dire
foul
rude
ignorant
diabolical
flawed
dreadful
unacceptable
inappropriate

You can use these when describing the service you have received about a faulty item or poor service etc. This will help when you include your rights under the relevant laws, in particular the Consumer Rights Act 2015 

You can also get more advice, tips, information and templates for your letters and further information in the book How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, redress & Results!

What words do you like to use in your complaint correspondence?

How to complain about broadband speeds/service interruptions

I do believe that there are more people that have complaints about their broadband services than don’t!

Laptop, ipad, phone with how to complain effectively about broadband speed and interruptions

Speed
This can be quite a problem of which people are not really aware. Check your broadband speed by using site that will do this such as Broadbandchecker (it’s free). Look at the speed that you are paying for and complain if necessary! Usually this is via the company’s complaint form. Annoyingly though, most ISPs get round poor speeds by advertising speeds “up to” a certain level. I’d like to think that this was a breach of consumer law, not least The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, but advertising regulators have been involved and ISPs can advertise in this way if just 10% or more of customers can reach this speed.

The service must meet what was promised to you before you signed up though, otherwise the supplier could be in breach of contract – so you can complain if the service is frequently not meeting the speed. Check the terms and conditions of your contract. Maximum speeds may not be guaranteed and other factors such as where you live, how many people are on a website at one time etc. come into play.

Log your speeds over a few weeks and provide this information when informing your supplier that it is in breach of contract.

Ofcom’s voluntary code of practice which signed up telecoms providers should follow, states that they must give detailed quote for speeds on your line so ask for this. Also under these rules you can break the contract or take an alternative package without penalties if the speed is not per the original estimate.

Interruptions
You should log all interruptions to the service, with dates and of interruption along with the duration. How long you should do this for depends on how often you are getting interruptions. For example if it is happening several times a day for a week that is enough for you to complain. However, if it is only once or twice a week you might want to log for a couple of months to show that it is an ongoing problem.

All you need to know about complaining to telecom providers

How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!

 

GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS! for more information, tips, consumer rights, regulations, laws and template letters for most sectors.

 

 

 

 

For more information on how to complain to ‘phone providers and others see Tips and keep up to date with consumer news with the newsletter.

GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!

6 ways the CEO screws up!

When the CEO receives a complaint (and it is so easy to find a CEO’s email address now see ceoemail.com) it is often the CEO’s fault. Here’s why…

1)  Complaints about call centres  there are so many complaints about waiting times, being passed over etc. Many issues and reasons for the complaints are discussed in this post Call Centres. Most if not all boil down to the CEO. Who is putting the time limits on calls, making decisions about targets etc?

2) Rude staff – who is responsible for recruiting the people who recruited the rude staff? Who is responsible for ensuring that there are robust recruitment and disciplinary systems in place and who is responsible for recruiting that person? You keep going up until you reach the CEO. His/her fault!

3) Staff who don’t know where products are or how to carry out a service? Training is needed and again, who is responsible for that, one keeps going up until you reach the CEO!

4) Staff morale is low and they in turn provide poor service. Who is responsible for pay and conditions? Ultimately the CEO!

5) Staff don’t go the extra mile for a customer, they do the bare minimum. Who is responsible for putting in measures that make staff loyal to the company? That’ll be the CEO.

6) Sales go down because the CEO doesn’t care for his or her customers, just profits and this shines through all the way down through the ranks to the face to face staff because the brown mucky stuff starts from the top. Look at my posts about the previous Tesco CEO

If CEOs cared about what their customers wanted and listened to them they’d do what they want and the profits would follow. Just. Simple. Common. Sense. Not rocket science, common sense. So many a CEO got all the qualifications but sadly there is no qualification in common sense. Every company makes mistakes it is how they deal with the mistake that matters. That is down to the CEO too. Empower staff to make decisions, train them to make the right ones and the complaint won’t be escalated to the CEO. Simples. So many CEOs don’t see it.

Marcus Williamson, the editor of www.ceoemail.com wrote a guest post on why and when to contact the CEO here. Tips on complaining effectively to the CEO can be found here.

Warning about insurance procedures

Don’t be afraid to challenge insurance company procedures! If you feel someone has made a mistake they probably have. Xmas 2013 we sort of forgot a candle was burning! Luckily before it burnt the house down it only burnt through the table burning a couple of holes and scorching it in other places. I telephoned the Liverpool  and Victoria insurance company to request a claim form and was told that I would have to pay the £150 excess to the loss adjustor when he arrived. I don’t think so! As this was a customer service representative I decided to write to the CEO (contact details for all CEOs at ceoemail.com) of the insurance company. So the correspondence went as follows:

23/01/14 emailed CEO informed him that we had been told that an Assessor would come and we would have to pay a cheque for £150 and this would be deducted from the amount paid out. Said what an appalling, outrageous and unfair system it appeared to be. We offered to send photos but this was declined. How on earth is anyone meant to make a decision about whether it is worth paying the excess and an increase in future premiums? You could look at the photos and give some indication, but this had been refused. Mentioned the Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 as believed this to be an unfair commercial practice, misleading the consumer as to what they can expect. I attached the photos that were deemed unnecessary. “You may send an Assessor and deduct the excess from the settlement should we choose to take it” said I. Threatened the ombudsman and Small Claims Court. Did the trick.

24/01/14 response from someone in the CEO’s team stating that he would like to arrange an inspection of the table by their contractor’s Independent Inspections to see if the table can be restored. Offered us opportunity to arrange a report ourselves for which they would pay. Apologised that I was told I would need to pay the excess in the first instance, this should only be applied to a settlement.

28/01/14 emailed to say I had contacted restorers who said that just by looking at the photos they can see that the table is beyond repair and the quote for providing a report with details of how much it would cost to replace will be £35 plus VAT. I reiterated that I was categorically told that the cheque had to be paid before we agreed to settle. This was queried several times because it sounded so ludicrous. The customer services representative was adamant that the cheque had to be paid to the assessor and asked why this was. He clearly thought that this was the correct procedure so I was quite sure that this was not the first time it has been done and saw no reason why I should not take the matter further and expected redress for the inconvenience caused.


28/01/14 response to say go ahead with quote and that he would listen to the call and get back to me.

29/01/14 further email to say that I was correct and I had been advised as I said I had been! Oh whoopee do! Should I be pleased that they decided I wasn’t a liar?! He had discussed the matter with the handler and apparently there was some confusion. With building repairs, they would expect their contractors to arrange to collect an excess before carrying out repairs but this would usually be after they had inspected damage and assessed the approximate costs. The handler was informed of the error and a significant misunderstanding about the claims process was put right. How you confuse a building with a table I am unsure. The report was accepted I settled and took the £25 goodwill gesture for the inconvenience.

Insurance can be a minefield, whether house, vehicles or health! Most people have a story to tell. Don’t forget to use the tips on here for complaining and insurance is well covered in the book!

If you want to contact Liverpool and Victoria insurance company CEO you can do so here.