According to recent figures released by Citizens Advice, smaller energy companies are receiving some of the most complaints from customers across the UK, but what exactly does this mean?
As part of the on-going investigation into the competitiveness of the energy market being run by the Competition and Markets Authority, Citizens Advice conducted a survey to assess the quality of customer service offered by the various suppliers in the UK.
Who got the most complaints?
They ranked the suppliers according to the number of complaints received for every 100,000 customers and the results were interesting. While the Big Six energy providers (E.On, EDF Energy, British Gas, Scottish Power, SSE and Npower) have come under fire recently for their apparent monopolisation of the market generally, they actually fared rather well when it came to customer service.
Indeed of the seven suppliers who did best, receiving fewer than 100 complaints per 100,000 customers, four were from the Big Six.
The seven were:
– British Gas
– EDF Energy
– Good Energy
– Green Star Energy, and
SSE did the best out of all companies surveyed, receiving only 47 complaints for every 100,000 customers.
By contrast, the most complaints were received by another member of the Big Six, Scottish Power, who received 944 complaints from the sample given. Along with Npower, they were the only two Big Six providers who received more than 400 complaints per 100,000 customers. They were joined by a selection of smaller, challenger providers, including the country’s largest independent supplier, First Utility, who got 420 complaints from the sample group.
Can smaller suppliers handle the rush of business?
Part of the difficulty with these smaller providers is that as their customer base grows, which happens as bodies like the CMA push customers to move away from the Big Six (or at least to consider the other options), their infrastructure comes under pressure. It is, rather plainly, more difficult for a small independent supplier to deal with hundreds of thousands of customers than it is for a huge multinational energy company like, say, EDF.
Nonetheless, frequency of complaints is certainly a factor that must be taken into consideration when conducting a full investigation into the energy market.
Gillian Guy of Citizens Advice said that: “customers need the whole picture on energy suppliers, so they can choose who to buy their energy from on the basis of what is most important to them whether that’s the price or the service.”
“Complaints are a significant part of this” he added, “and people will rightly question why some energy firms have nearly 20 times as many complaints as others.”
“Most grievances are dealt with by the end of the next working day”
Energy UK spokesman Lawrence Slade however, was keen to point out that the raw number of complaints did not necessarily belie a poor service overall.
“Most grievances are dealt with by the end of the next working day with no more than a phone call” he pointed out. “The key thing here is [that] a range of choice comes into play when shopping around for energy. Customers can consider fuel type, cheaper tariffs and good service when choosing their supplier. Smart meters will also significantly iron our any issues relating to billing when they roll-out in the next few years.”
Smart Energy GB plans, with government support, to have smart meters installed in every home in the UK by the year 2020.