Citizens Advice is warning of a “huge chasm” between the customer service performance of Great Britain’s best and worst gas and electricity suppliers, particularly in the accuracy of bills.
The charity has named Orbit Energy the worst energy supplier for customer service for the second quarter in a row. Orbit, a mid-sized supplier with around 100,000 customers, earned a dismal rating of 1.50 stars for its performance between January and March 2021.
The People’s Energy Company, a registered social enterprise, ranked second-to-last, its rating deteriorating from 2.80 stars to just 1.65 stars. Some of the customer dissatisfaction may come down to a late December data breach that compromised the personal information of all 270,000 customers.
Symbio Energy was also a repeat offender, ranking 32nd out of 34 suppliers in the first quarter of 2021, after its penultimate placing in the last quarter of 2020. Symbio’s performance has skidded still further this spring. In May, it was issued a formal warning by Trustpilot for its “threatening” responses to negative reviews on the reviews site. Customers have alleged that Symbio ignores meter readings to use inflated estimates of their consumption and then issues them overinflated bills—the kind of behaviour that has earned it just 2.05 stars from Citizens Advice.
These bottom-ranked energy suppliers are regularly sending their customers inaccurate bills, “failing in their most basic obligation to customers,” Citizens Advice said. Between January and March 2021, the five worst energy suppliers failed to provide accurate bills for 15% of their customers, compared to less than 3% of those in the top five.
But inaccurate bills are a problem across the board, accounting for more than 40% of the problems with which customers turned to Citizens Advice consumer helpline. Inaccurate bills often mean customers are billed incorrectly, throwing budgets into disarray and creating unnecessary financial hardship at a time when many households are already struggling. For people experiencing debt or unemployment, incorrect bills can be particularly stressful, Citizens Advice said.
Customers are often unable to contact their energy supplier to have these errors rectified and their credit balances refunded.
The worst suppliers respond to just 35% of customers’ emails within two working days, compared to 86% for the best-rated suppliers. Customers attempting to contact the five worst suppliers will wait for more than six minutes on average, 3.5 times longer than those with the five best suppliers.
Some customers are even unluckier. Citizens Advice cited the example of a pensioner who tried repeatedly to contact Orbit Energy after her bills unexpectedly doubled. The woman was ultimately forced to escalate the case to the Energy Ombudsman.
Dame Clare Moriarty, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Providing an accurate energy bill is the most basic aspect of customer service that a supplier can offer and yet many are failing to do this. All companies have a responsibility to deliver the best possible service to their customers and it’s disappointing to see such a wide chasm between those who are taking this seriously and those who are not.
“When customers with billing errors are unable to contact their supplier for help, it can cause immense stress. These problems are even worse for those who are already worried about money. It’s vital that suppliers fix these issues and provide support for those most at risk of debt.”
This support for customers in debt should include tailored and flexible repayment plans, Citizens Advice says.
Not all energy companies are engaged in this “race to the bottom.” Citizens Advice named Igloo Energy the top energy supplier for the second quarter in a row, with an improved overall score of 4.65 stars.
Meanwhile, Outfox the Market has continued its stunning comeback, ranking second this quarter. The budget energy supplier shocked earlier this year when it came in third place in Citizen Advice’s previous quarter league table and earned first place in Which?’s annual energy company rankings. Outfox the Market had previously been handed the wooden spoon by Citizens Advice after increasing customers’ direct debits without explanation and issuing inaccurate and confusing bills. It’s since invested heavily in its customer service and fixed these failings.
M&S Energy, a white-label brand of Octopus Energy, came in third, while Octopus Energy itself ranked fifth, the best performing of the new energy challengers. Fellow new energy giants Ovo and Bulb delivered more middling performances, ranking 12th and 14th, respectively. Small supplier E (Gas and Electricity) ranked fourth.
At number 6, EDF was the best ranked of the Big Six, the suppliers that traditionally dominated the energy market. It was the only surviving member of the Big Six to crack the top 20. British Gas (21st), SSE (23rd), Scottish Power (27th) and E.ON (28th) are failing many of their millions of customers.
Citizen Advice ranks Great Britain’s energy suppliers quarterly, with ratings based on data about customer service, billing and switching, and the number of complaints about the supplier filed with Citizens Advice itself and the Energy Ombudsman.