Iresa, a small energy firm based in Nottinghamshire, has been banned from taking on new customers for the next three months, or until noticeable improvements have been made in its customer service.
This move was made by Ofgem, the energy regulator, after they opened an investigation into the company last month on the back of numerous referrals to the watchdog by customers unhappy with slow waiting times and a lack of response to telephone calls and emails. As well as customer complaints, Ofgem acted after referrals from other watchdogs, such as Citizen’s Advice and the Ombudsman.
If Iresa doesn’t succeed in improving its customer service over the three-month period, it risks losing its licence. Ofgem stated that if significant action isn’t taken over the next three months they will consider this move – although it says that it hasn’t yet found conclusive evidence of a breach of licence conditions yet.
A series of sanctions has been placed on the company and will remain in effect until it demonstrates clear improvements in its customer service. Aside from being unable to accept new customers, Iresa has had ability to conduct financial transactions limited. For example they are now unable to increase direct debits or tariffs, nor can they receive any one-off payments for the duration of this three-month period.
The company is required to extend call centre opening hours and bring down the average call waiting time to below five minutes – the current time is estimated to be over half an hour. They are also required to call customers back by the end of the next working day if requested and to respond to all emails within five days (as well as clearing the backlog of emails that currently exists). Ofgem has also required Iresa to draw up a plan to identify and help vulnerable customers, including building a priority services register to allow such customers immediate access to help.
When the BBC tried to contact the company, they were told that they were the 38th call in the queue, and so were unable to speak to anyone – other users have reported delays of up to 4 hours, or being told that they were over 50th in the queue.
Iresa has faced complaints from customers for some time; in January there was widespread anger and numerous complaints to the regulator after they hiked direct debits by up to 20%, even for customers in credit. A spokesperson of the company said: “We are actively working to fix the issues raised by Ofgem. We are confident that our customers will see a noticeable improvement in our customer service response times and we apologise to customers who we have let down in the past. We are committed to improving our quality of service to deliver a much better customer experience.”