So much to complain about in the energy sectors?! Listed below are links to various helpful posts about any issue you may be having with your supplier, your rights, how to get it sorted and gain redress.
In the Winter of 2014 my elderly aunt’s heating went off. Southern Electric responsible for her boiler cover left her without heating for 9 days. NINE! And inadequate for 11!
When I got to hear of this I decided to do something about it! Obviously. I won’t bore you with the details of the email I wrote to the CEO of Southern Electric for my cousin to write but this was the summary at the end:
Summary of complaint
1) My mother is a priority customer and should have had her heating fixed, with priority. This was not done, several times over.
2) My mother was without any heating for 9 days. This would be unacceptable for anyone never mind an 83 year old woman who has just come out of hospital recovering from recent major surgery.
3) Engineers arrived at 11.15pm on the first day. That is not an acceptable time to arrive at an elderly woman’s home. She wanted to go to bed and had to wait up for engineers and in addition to that, had to do so in a cold house.
4) The first engineer left my mother with some, but not all, heating for two days and none for one. Not acceptable.
5) On the 3rd November my mother was called at 5.00pm saying that they could not come until the following day, leaving her another day with no heating. Not acceptable
6) Late on the 4th November engineers informed my mother that the new circuit board, they had brought with them, was faulty and left her without heating again. Not acceptable.
7) On 5th November, another circuit board was fitted, but it still did not work and, yet again, my mother was left with no heating. Not acceptable.
8) On the 6th November my mother was told that the engineer would arrive at 11.55am, so was unable to go out for lunch. The engineer did not show up until after 2pm. Not acceptable.
9) On the 6th November the engineers arrived and left my mother without heating for another day. Not acceptable.
10) On the 7th November ‘phone calls were made but still nothing sorted as the engineer left my mother without heating for a further three days. Not acceptable.
11) One of your engineers made a wholly inappropriate and insensitive remark to my mother regarding saving heating costs. (He had said “think of the money you are saving on heating”) Not acceptable.
12) My mother had to stay in one room all day with two electric heaters at much greater costs than heating the whole house with gas would be.
13) One fan heater was not left for my mother until Wednesday 5th November and another on Friday 7th. Not acceptable.
14) My mother has the boiler serviced with you and it was serviced only in May of this year. It would appear that the service was not undertaken properly, a breach of the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 as the work was not undertaken with reasonable skill and care.
15) There were clear communication issues between all the visits. Every time an engineer attended my mother’s property they did not know what previous engineers had done.
16) The engineer who repaired the boiler insinuated that the other engineers did not know what they were doing as no parts were ever needed. A clear breach of the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982.
My mother is due compensation. The amount of time without heating, not providing alternative heating, not arriving within agreed time slots and not repairing the fault within a reasonable length of time. The service has been appalling and a clear breach of the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982. Services have not been carried out with reasonable skill and care at any point and in addition have not been undertaken in a timely manner.
I, therefore, expect my mother to be fully and appropriately compensated (to which she is legally entitled) for all the breaches above. I also expect a partial refund for the service charge as this was seemingly not undertaken properly. Had it been, it would not have taken 7 visits to rectify the issue. I also expect her to be compensated for the serious amount of distress, stress and inconvenience caused. I also expect an apology and explanation for every stage of this sorry matter and an explanation for the engineer’s wholly inappropriate remark. I wonder if you would appreciate an elderly relative recovering from serious major surgery, unable to recover properly due to lack of heating, and being treated like my mother was? I am very interested in your comments on this.
I look forward to hearing from you within five days. Should I not do so I will not hesitate in taking the matter further. I will be sharing our experiences regarding Southern Electric on various social media and forums. I will also be contacting Trading Standards. I will also request a deadlock letter and take the matter to the Energy Ombudsman and through the small claims process if necessary.
(Yes that was the shortened version! Sometimes you have to put the work in when complaints are long. But shows the importance of keeping records of everything, all calls, visits etc.)
The CEO responded saying he would pass it to the Executive Complaints Office. (It is rare to get a response from the CEO when you contact him/her (You can get the email contact details at ceoemail.com for any CEO) but it will go higher than customer services, see more tips here.)
He told my cousin the following:
1) He had contacted the senior management team within the Home Services Department who would ensure that the engineer who made the comment is spoken to and given feedback on the potential effect that this type of comment can have on an already unhappy and vulnerable customer.
2) That there were no markers on the Gas, electric or home services accounts to indicate that her mother was vulnerable. The only marker held shows that she is an old age pensioner with a 1941 date of birth and that it was made clear that an emergency appointment it could go ahead any time morning, afternoon or evening.
3) Appointments are not guaranteed due to emergencies which can stop engineers attending as was the case on the 3rd November (Oh yes, you can believe that I went a little bit nuts at this one! Read on!)
4) A repeat of what we had told him about visits
5) In an ideal world they would be able to diagnose and repair every fault on the first visit however; as boilers are mechanical with many working parts it can sometimes take several days to repair faults such as that experienced by my aunt.
6) Disagreed that they failed in their contract when they serviced my aunt’s boiler as any potential fault may not have been picked up at this time as electrical faults, unlike mechanical faults, are not easily identified.
7) Apologised for not providing alternative heating.
8) Acknowledged failing in their service and offered a good will gesture of £150.00 and to let him know if was to be accepted.
Now, as financial journalist Paul Lewis said in his review of my book How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results! “Her guiding principle is never take yes for an answer. If you want £100 compensation and they offer £50 write back and demand £200…..
The response I wrote for my cousin
1) Pointed out inaccurate records, aunt born in 1931 not 1941.
2) Mother mentioned that she had had surgery when she telephoned. Unable to comment on why the member of staff did not note this down on records and even if she didn’t, every engineer who visited the house was told. Plus they would have also been able to see how distressed she was becoming and that her breathing was laboured.
3) Southern Electric were first rung at 8.00am, as soon as my mother realised there was no heating and actually had a friend with her to verify this. She was told that it would be a couple of hours before they could let her know when an engineer would get to her. She explained she had a doctors appointment at 10.10am and would be going out at 9.30am. On her return there was a message on her answer machine and she rang back – hence the phone call logged at 10.30am.
4) I fully understand that there cannot be guaranteed times. However, as you rightly state, my motheris listed as a vulnerable person and should have been a priority. I am afraid I do not believe that all your engineers were on the one emergency job or were all on cases more urgent than seeing a vulnerable person. I am interested in your evidence to prove otherwise. Also, I fail to understand that when the engineer is unable to find the fault, or get a part, why was she was then left until late every day – each time with no heating.
5) I note that you say had you known she had had surgery that it may have been possible to attend earlier on the very first day. I would have thought being an 83 year old woman was enough reason to be an emergency and leaving her without heating, for so long when she could at least have been in bed, is completely unacceptable.
6) Even if point 4 above can be proved that all cases were more urgent she should have been given alternative heating.
7) You state that the wiring was the last possible fault. This seems absurd. You seem to be suggesting that it is acceptable for engineers to diagnose anything regardless of any tests and just go through each part in turn. Utterly ridiculous. Why do the engineers not have parts in their vehicles or at least in stock? Why was my mother left again without heating so frequently when engineers could have gone through their “checklist” of possible errors until the fault was fixed?
8)You are covered by your code of conduct and in addition your complaints procedure is the same as for any other complaint.
Given the above questionable and inaccurate issues in your response, I trust that you will review it and provide a more acceptable reply with improved offer of goodwill gesture to cover the atrocious service my mother received. My mother is only just recovering from the breathing difficulties caused by the damp, cold house and electric heaters and the house has obviously taken some time to heat up given that it had been without heating for so long. The dreadful service from Southern Electric contributed to her illness, suffering and distress and I do not believe that anything you have said goes any way to assure me that this could not happen again. Should I not be satisfied that Southern Electric will provide a far superior (i.e. acceptable) service in the future I will be forced to move my mother’s account to another company.
Their next response
1) Sorry they didn’t recognise the vulnerability although this was mentioned at the time. Year of birth changed to 1931. Vulnerability markers now placed on Home Services records to ensure that should the boiler breakdown again we treat her case more sympathetically and that any breakdown is treated as a priority. The Home Services system is a stand alone system and does not interface with the customer system used for gas and electric accounts which did have a vulnerability marker present. We are in the process of installing a new Home Services system which should prevent a similar situation happening in the future.
2) Appreciated that not all engineers were on emergency jobs however; they would all have had their daily work allocated to them when they started their working day. The work would be set in such a way as to ensure each engineer had enough time to complete each job and would include travelling time between jobs. It is unfortunate that the engineer who was tasked with attending the initial breakdown was not made aware of the vulnerability otherwise it could have been dealt with as a priority.
3) Completely agreed they let her mother down on a number of occasions including, failing to leave alternative heating until 5 November almost a week after the boiler developed it’s fault.
4) Keen to make things right both for my cousin and her mother in the hope that it will resolve this matter for both. Offered a full years free boiler cover which would cost £214.80 and would mean not paying her next 12 monthly Direct Debit payments. They would also cover her next monthly Electric Direct Debit payment of £37.00 to cover any additional electricity she may have used as a result of heating with the fan heaters provided. Finally we would make this up to a total of £301.80 by applying a goodwill payment of £50.00 to either her gas or electric account.
Ofgem Standards of Conduct
In August 2013 Ofgem put new Standards of Conduct into place. They require suppliers and any organisations that represent them, such as brokers or third party intermediaries, to ensure that each domestic customer is treated fairly. They cover three broad areas:
suppliers must behave and carry out any actions in a fair, honest, transparent, appropriate and professional manner.
suppliers must provide information (whether in writing or orally) which is:
complete, accurate and not misleading (in terms of the information provided or omitted);
communicated in plain and intelligible language;
related to products or services that are appropriate to the customer to whom it is directed; and
fair both in terms of its content and in terms of how it is presented (with more important information being given appropriate prominence).
the supplier must:
make it easy for the consumer to contact them;
act promptly and courteously to put things right when they make a mistake;
otherwise ensure that customer service arrangements and processes are complete, thorough, fit for purpose and transparent.
Four “core” tariffs per fuel (electricity and gas) will be the limit that any supplier can offer. This will apply to each payment type. Suppliers will be allowed to offer these tariffs to collective switching schemes. They will also be able to offer extra fixed term tariffs into schemes that meet their criteria.
Standing charge and a single unit rate for all tariffs and suppliers can set the standing charge at zero if they wish
Dual fuel and online account management discounts remain. They will not be considered as “core tariffs” but as a discount. They will be simplified and will apply uniformly across all tariffs as £/pence per year. For example, a supplier would be able to offer a direct debit customer a choice of no more than four electricity and four gas tariffs. The customer could then choose a dual fuel discount and an online account management discount.
Existing, expensive “dead tariffs” (i.e. tariffs that are no longer marketed) – customers must be transferred onto the cheapest variable rate. A supplier will only be able to keep consumers on dead tariffs if they are cheaper, or as cheap, as the supplier’s lowest standard or evergreen tariff.
Ban from increasing prices on fixed term deals or making other changes to fixed term tariffs (except trackers or structured price increases set out in advance which are fully in line with consumer protection law).
Banfromrollingforwardhouseholdcustomersontofixedtermcontracts without their consent.
42-49 day window before customers’ end date of their fixed term tariff for them to decide if they want to stay with the supplier or switch.
Requirement to give all customers personalised information on the cheapest tariff offered for them. This information will appear on each bill and on a range of other customer communications.
All information suppliers send to consumers is to be simplified, more engaging and personalised to them.
Tariff Comparison Rate (TCR) – all suppliers’ communications to provide “at a glance” information to help customers compare tariffs. The TCR will be similar to the APR comparison rate used with credit cards. Ofgem is also requiring suppliers to provide personalised estimates which take account of a customer’s usage to enable them to compare tariffs more accurately when switching.
Tariff information label will set out key terms and conditions as well as relevant information to help consumers compare across suppliers.
Quality of Service Guaranteed Standards
The Quality of Service Guaranteed Standards are guaranteed standards of service levels that must be met by each distribution company. The Direction was made by GEMA and took effect in October 2010. These standards have been set to guarantee a level of service that is reasonable to expect companies to deliver in all cases.
If the distribution company fails to meet the level of service required, it must make a payment to the customer subject to certain exemptions which are:
severe weather makes it impossible to restore the supply
strikes or industrial action
you’re out when the energy company visits and you knew they were coming
you cancel an appointment.
Payments under the guaranteed standards compensate for the inconvenience caused by loss of supply. They are not designed to compensate customers for subsequent financial loss.
Ofgem monitors and enforces the guaranteed standards relating to quality of supply.
The guaranteed standards cover 12 key service areas, including supply restoration, connections and voltage quality, and for the consumer cover situations when:
you report a faulty prepayment meter to your supplier and someone is not sent to repair or replace it within a specified time
the supplier doesn’t arrive within agreed time slot for a visit to your home
the supplier doesn’t respond to your written enquiries within a certain time limit gas supply is interrupted because of a fault – you may be entitled to a compensation payment, depending on for how long it is off. It must be restored within a specified time depending on the weather and the number of homes affected.
the supplier does not give two days or more written notice when an electricity distributor plans to interrupt your supply (example here)
a gas transporter digs up your garden or driveway and any damage caused by the work is not made good within ten days
you are on the Priority Services Register and your gas supply is interrupted but you are not given alternative heating and cooking facilities within four hours.
Energy suppliers are signed up to Ofgem’s back-billing principle. If the supplier is at fault for not sending you a bill for more than a year, (and this could be for a number of reasons including, not dealing with requests from you about a faulty meter or account and subsequently allowing a large debt to build, failing to process a direct debit or just failing to send you a bill) then you do not have to pay. There are some reasons when this doesn’t apply, such as if you make no attempt to make a payment. Should the company not honour this principle then follow their complaints procedure.
There have been many reports over the last few years regarding poor practice in the energy market, such as mis-sellling, putting people on the wrong tariffs and over charging.
Companies are bound by the same laws as suppliers of other services and so consumers are covered in particular by The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and The Consumer Rights Directive 2013, protecting the consumer from misleading information and providing a 14 days cooling off period. If you have made a purchasing decision you would not have made had you been given accurate information or not put under unfair pressure to do so you’ve been misled and these laws protect you.
Following Ofgem investigations, if you have switched suppliers in the last couple of years with a company representative rather than online, you may have been mis-sold. It may be worth checking to see if the company has a compensation package
Ofgem is the Office of the Gas and Electricity Markets, which supports the Gas and Electricity Markets Authority (GEMA), the regulator of the gas and electricity industries in Great Britain. The Authority’s powers and duties are largely provided for in statute (such as the Gas Act 1986, the Electricity Act 1989, the Utilities Act 2000, the Competition Act 1998, the Enterprise Act 2002 and the Energy Acts of 2004, 2008, 2010 and 2011) as well as under rulings of European Community legislation in respect of energy regulation. GEMA oversees Ofgem’s work and provides strategic direction.
Ofgem will not deal with individual complaints but provides guidance for energy suppliers.
Energy suppliers must have a procedure for dealing with complaints. This should be available on their website or by telephoning them. The procedure should include names and contact details of all available sources of independent help, advice and information.
If you have a complaint about your electricity, contact the supplier in the first instance. If you think you are entitled to compensation, contact your regional electricity distributor within three months of getting your power back on (if they haven’t contacted you). Your regional electricity distributor may not be the same as the company that supplies you with electricity. There are fixed payments for various issues.
The big six companies must resolve a complaint within 8 weeks (12 weeks for smaller companies). The customer needs to be part of this process, providing any information requested. If it is not resolved within this time the supplier must produce a letter of deadlock. Once this is received the customer can take the complaint to the Energy Ombudsman. (In Northern Ireland, you should contact the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland).
If you don’t get satisfaction from customer services contact the CEO, you can get the contact details for CEOs at ceoemail.com.
Priority Services Register
The Priority Services Register is for vulnerable people (people who are of pensionable age, are registered disabled, have a hearing or visual impairment, or have long term ill- health) and includes lots of benefits including entitlement to a free annual gas check, priority reconnection and free advice. Register with your supplier.
If your existing account is in credit you can ask for a refund. Ogem says this should be paid promptly unless there are reasonable grounds not to do so.
Check the company’s policy for complaining refunds ifyou are in credit with an account you closed. Ofgem simply says suppliers must make efforts to return the money! There isn’t even a “promptly” guideline here! But the Energy Ombudsman or a court would expect it to be within a reasonable length of time! Whatever reasonable may be!
These are a must for finding the cheapest deal. Try to use more than one comparison site as they do not all list every company. It may seem like tedious work but it can save you hundreds of pounds. You can use these for insurance, broadband, TV, energy and banking.
Check the terms and conditions of the site and tick the box that says you don’t want to be contacted by anyone! It could be considered an Unfair Contract if the site states that it is not responsible for the information it provides. Check how the results are presented from one site to another and that the actual service provided is the same.
Ofgem is currently changing its voluntary code of practice for price comparison websites to prevent them from displaying products on which it earns commission more prominently than those on which it doesn’t. The new Code requirements came into effect from the 1st April 2015 with the exception of those relating to supplier ratings and the Warm Home Discount (1st May 2015) and Personal Projection requirements for energy companies (1st June 2015).
Comparison websites ‘accredited’ by Ofgem must prominently list the energy companies from which they receive commission on sales, as well as clearly stating that they earn commission on certain tariffs. The websites will no longer be allowed to limit by default the tariffs that a consumer sees when making a search. Websites need to display all tariffs available to a consumer regardless of supplier. Sites that comply with the code are listed as ‘accredited’ by Ofgem and can display related logos on their sites.
Ofcom also has an accreditation scheme and members of this are listed on their website. The key requirements of the Ofcom Price Accreditation Scheme are that information presented to consumers must be comprehensive, accurate and transparent. Accredited price comparison websites must show a good selection of providers (covering at least 90% of the market) and enable consumers to rank according to price. There isn’t a requirement to show absolutely all deals in the market. Given the large number of small providers in some markets, it may not be practical for a price comparison website to list all providers and options.
The guidance states that commercial arrangements must be transparent. Ofcom accredited price comparison websites must not discriminate against particular providers and, where a selection of packages is included, this should not result in an unfair or unbiased representation of an operator. Accredited price comparison websites are prevented from filtering results by commission payments.
Financial Conduct Authority
The FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) authorises and regulates some price comparison websites but it does not make recommendations. It undertook a review of comparison websites earlier this year and followed them up to ensure that they had addressed the specific issues identified. It will use the full range of regulatory tools available as appropriate if any of them have not done so. The FCA uses a wide range of enforcement powers – criminal, civil and regulatory – to protect consumers and to take action against firms or individuals that do not meet its standards. You can search for companies regulated by the FCA on the register on its website.