Energy ombudsman shows how to keep heat on your supplier

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How to get the best result from an ombudsman

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.

Lewis Shand Smith Biography

Lewis Shand Smith was appointed Chief Executive and Chief Ombudsman of Ombudsman Services in 2009. Ombudsman ServiHead shot Lewis Shand Smithces 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.

Reasons for not getting desired outcome

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

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.

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.

Electricity pylon Everything you need to know to complain about energy problems

 

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. 

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.

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.

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.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR): What it all means post that explains what it is all about and how you can use it.

Government and regulators continue to fail on resolving consumer disputes this post describes how government funded bodies are failing to regulate the non regulated ADR sector. Links to other posts and reports.

Landing in court with Ryanair warning about using AviationADR when dealing with aviation complaints

Ombudsman Omnishambles and More Ombudsman Omnishambles the research reports looking at how some ADR schemes such as the one run by Consumer Dispute Resolution Limited which used to run The Retail Ombudsman and lost the title are being approved and monitored.

Ask the Ombudsman: Kevin Grix CEO Dispute Resolution Ombudsman & The Furniture Ombudsman post looking at what this Ombudsman does with tips on preventing problems when you shop.

Further help

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!

 

 

 

 

All you need to know about roaming charges

Updated 14/06/17

What are roaming charges?
Roaming charges are put in place when the network detects that you are abroad and extra rates on top of what you normally pay. Charges for making calls, receiving a voicemail, picking it up, sending and receiving texts and pictures and of course using the Internet and downloading or streaming.

Isn’t the EU doing something about this?
In 2007 the European Commission says it started to tackle reducing roaming tariffs when travelling in the EU. It has been progressively capping the maximum amount a mobile ‘phone provider can charge for services in Europe. On the 15th June 2017 they will end completely.

What are the capped charges?
Remember this is only for countries in the EU. The costs were capped in July 2014 and again from 30th April 2016 (excluding VAT for calls, texts and downloading data).

• Roaming data dropped from around 15p per mb to up to 4p plus the domestic price.
• Outgoing calls dropped from around 15p per minute to up to 4p plus the domestic price
• Incoming calls from around 4p per minute to up to 1p plus the domestic price
• Outgoing texts from around 5p per text to up to 2p plus domestic price
• On 15 June 2017 there will be no extra roaming fee within the EU – it will be the same as domestic price

These price caps are the maximum permissible prices. Operators are free to offer cheaper rates, so keep an eye out for better deals.

From 15th June 2017
The European Commission is rolling out a new regulation, called “Roam Like at Home”, on 15 June 2017, when roaming charges in the EU cease to exist. From that date you will pay the same in 28 EU countries as if you were at home as part of your contract allowance. The new rules will be extended to Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway in a few weeks time (date to be confirmed).

What about outside of the EU?
No laws for capping those charges.

Consider buying a SIM in the country in which you are travelling as this may be a better alternative.

Contact your provider to see what offers they have for packages for using your phone abroad.

What can you do to keep charges down?
1) Since July 2014 you can use a different provider. You can have a contract with one operator, for national services, and another with a separate operator, for roaming, so check if this may be a better option.

2) Use free Wi-Fi wherever you can! When out and about make use of any free Wi-Fi, saving picking up voicemails for example.

3) If you’re not using Wi-Fi, avoid using data-heavy activities such as watching videos, updating social media with photos or downloading music. If you are checking emails, avoid opening large attachments.

4) Most providers now offer roaming add ons at a discounted rate which may be worth purchasing. So this allows you extra allowance at no further charge. Depends how much you think you will use your phone abroad. Check with your provider before you go as to how these work and that they apply to the country you are visiting. Also confirm when they will be activated on your account.

5) Switch off the data roaming facility on your phone and put it back on when you actually know you want to use it. If you don’t do this before you leave the UK, your smartphone will automatically seek out an internet connection when you reach your destination and you may start using data without realising it. Make sure that functions such as wifi assist have been also been turned off as they put you on the network without informing the user.

6) Check with your provider that you can turn off voicemail if you don’t think you will need it and be sure to put it back on when you arrive back.

7) If you think you will need to use your phone at sea, check with your provider before you travel how much it will cost to use your phone via a satellite connection.

8) If your ‘phone is stolen whilst you are out of the UK, you could be liable for any charges that get racked up. Contact your provider as soon as possible to avoid facing high charges as a result of unauthorised use. If you are with Three, Virgin Mobile, Vodafone, EE or O2 for mobile services, you should only be responsible for paying up to a maximum of £100 for any unauthorised usage outside of your allowance so long as you report the loss within 24 hours. Also check any mobile insurance you have that may cover this.

9) Explore buying a local pay-as-you-go SIM card when you arrive. You’ll have a different ‘phone number but you will only pay local prices. Roaming charges will still apply if you want to make a call or send a text back to your home country using a local SIM. Check with your operator to make sure you can use another SIM with your ‘phone.

10) Check that the country you are visiting is covered by the EU cap! Turkey, Northern Cyprus and Egypt are all popular destinations that are outside the EU. Charges in Switzerland also vary on a network to network basis.

11) Keep an eye on your provider’s free use policy.  Some providers add a charge for using all data allowance (although still free for calls and texts).

Your rights
1) All mobile operators have to apply a cut-off limit once you have incurred €50 (excluding VAT) – around £36 – of data per month, wherever you travel in the world unless you choose another limit.

2) The provider must send you an alert to your phone when you reach 80% and then 100% of the agreed data roaming limit. Operators must stop charging for data at the 100% point, unless you agree to continue to use data.

3) Under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading (Amendment) Regulations 2014 the retailer must ensure the customer understands what goods and services are being provided and ensure that there are no hidden costs. If the paperwork does not comply with the new requirements the consumer may not have to pay. When retailers send you email confirmation of the purchase this must now include a full description of the goods and services purchased including their characteristics and the full price including tax and any additional charges or delivery prices.

4) Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 traders must also provide services with reasonable skill and care.

How to complain effectively
1) Check and see if the company is in breach of any of the above.
2) If so, contact the company in writing not ‘phone.
3) See Top 20 tips on how to complain and How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results for more information, advice, tips, guidance and template letters for complaining effectively.
4) If not happy with the response email the CEO using ceoemail.com to find the address.
5) Threaten to take the case to the Ombudsman. Check whether your provider is a member of CISAS or Ombudsman Services and take your case there. You can use the ombudsman after 8 weeks since your first complaint or request a letter of deadlock.

See also All you need to know about complaining to telecom providers

See also Mobile operator Giff Gaff makes big gaffe by hiking roaming charges

Ombudsman Services says that almost 30% of complaints they receive about mobile phone services are about billing and data roaming. It’s often the case that customers do not fully understand the implications of opting out of the cap or read the notifications so it asks for proof from providers they have been sent.

Those they take on generally fall into one of the following categories:

 *   disputed data roaming charges or “bill shock”;

*   service failures while roaming; and

*   a company failing to cap a customer’s usage or send usage notifications.

It says, “If the provider has followed the rules then the customer usually has to pay. It is sometimes possible to get the provider to reduce the bill, but there is no compunction on them to do so.”