As part of Ofgem’s fourth “deep dive” into energy supplier standards, the energy regulator found all 17 of the UK’s largest energy suppliers to have weaknesses in consumer practices.
Conducted as part of the Market Compliance Review, several issues have been highlighted by the regulator, including customer service and complaints performance.
The review identified; weak policies and pathways for customer service journey, inconsistent scripts for staff handling complex calls, customers left waiting for hours on the phone, phone calls simply not picked up, up to 50% of customers giving up on phone calls, high rates of customer complaints upheld by the Energy Ombudsman, incomplete management information, and weaknesses in customer service agents’ training and/or quality control mechanisms.
Beyond these wider concerns, the report highlighted problems with specific suppliers. This included severe weaknesses identified at E.ON, which resulted in specific enforcement action via a provisional order being issued. According to Ofgem, E.ON’s performance on call waiting times and abandoned call rates was very poor and represented a severe deterioration in standards from the organisation was previously analysed.
It is hoped via the provisional order that E.ON will rectify the issues and fall in line with Ofgem’s standards with the regulator set to “monitor the situation closely”.
Moderate weaknesses in customer service and complaints had been recognised in a further 11 energy suppliers. This includes British Gas, E Gas & Electricity, EDF, Good Energy, Outfox the Market, OVO, ScottishPower, SO Energy, Utilita, Utility Warehouse and Tru Energy.
Alongside this, minor weaknesses had been uncovered at five suppliers including Bulb, Ecotricity, Green Energy, Shell and Octopus.
“From being on hold for too long, to not being given clear information, or sometimes not getting through to suppliers at all, this review has highlighted that customer service is just not good enough. In a world where customers need to be confident in consistently great care and support, it is clear that improvements need to be made,” said Neil Lawrence, director of retail at Ofgem.
“We also know from talking to suppliers that the calls they are getting are more and more complex. But we expect suppliers to respond dynamically to this, updating processes, call handling scripts and having enough people to deal with the current issues and complexities.
“The ask on suppliers may be greater due to these complexities but it’s clear today that some suppliers have risen to the challenge better than others. This isn’t just about the energy industry in isolation; this is about raising standards, so we are in line with other customer retail standards – getting waiting times down, making sure calls are answered and being able to give helpful information about a critical service.
“I want to see further improvement action as a result of today’s findings, and we will take further, firm action where this doesn’t happen.”
The previous Market Compliance Review, released in September 2022, explored how suppliers help customers in payment difficulties. With this, three suppliers had been identified in having severe weaknesses, eight suppliers had minor, five had moderate issues with just one supplier having had no issues at all.
Ecotricity, EDF, E.ON, Octopus, OVO, Shell, UW Energy and the merged So Energy and ESB, had been identified as suppliers with minor issues in current practices towards customers.
E Gas & Electricity, Good Energy, Green Energy, Outfox and Bulb were amongst those who had moderate issues with the support they have been providing their customers.
TruEnergy, Utilita and ScottishPower were found to demonstrate “severe” weaknesses in the way they deal with customers having payment difficulties, with Utilita and ScottishPower being issued with enforcement notices.
In addition to the Market Compliance Review, Ofgem today (2 February) launched a separate urgent investigation into practices at British Gas and its treatment of vulnerable customers, following an article from the Times suggested the company was forcibly installing prepayment meters.