Utility Week

Utility Week 4th October 2013

Utility Week - authoritative, impartial and essential reading for senior people within utilities, regulators and government

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Customers This week Coming top of Ofwat's customer complaints league table leaves Southern red-faced Southern Water says sorry for complaints Southern Water has apologised for "letting its customers down" and promised to improve its service after topping the annual league table for complaints against water companies, published by the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater). Southern Water posted a 77 New team in place to tackle service issues per cent year-on-year increase in written complaints in 2012/13, and has appointed a new customer senior management team in a bid to improve its performance. Darren Bentham, the new chief customer officer, said: "I'd like to apologise for letting our ustomers c down. Simply put, our service has not been good enough and these figures are unacceptable, but we're doing something about it." CCWater called for harsher penalties against companies triggering numerous customer complaints, saying it was concerned that the poorest-performing companies were lagging behind. Complaints fell for the fifth year in a row, but the drop of 7.4 per cent was less than the previous year's 12 per cent drop. The fall in telephone complaints is also slowing down. Despite a reduction of nearly 33 per cent, South East Water's number of complaints remains twice the industry average, while Thames Water was the only company to fall short of CCWater's target to resolve 90 per cent of complaints first time. United Utilities was commended for achieving the highest reduction in complaints, of almost 40 per cent. Pan-utility Millions borrowed to pay utilities Millions of consumers have b orrowed money to pay their utility bills, according to the Debt Advisory Centre. Its research showed that 2.5 million people (5 per cent of UK adults) used a credit card or took out a loan to settle gas, electricity and water bills in July. Those aged 25 to 34, and 35 to 44, were the most likely (8 per cent of each group) to have borrowed money to pay their utility bills. A high number of consumers in the East Midlands (10 per cent), Northern Ireland (9 per cent) and London (8 per cent) used credit to pay their bills. A Debt Advisory Centre spokesman said: "The fact that so many people are having to borrow to meet their utility bills during the summer – when heating bills are usually lower – could signal real trouble approaching this winter." ENERGY FMB: VAT cut would boost Green Deal The Green Deal will fail unless the government takes "swift and decisive" action to incentivise consumer demand for energy efficiency, according to the Federation of Master Builders (FMB). A survey of FMB members in the UK showed that more than 70 per cent think a reduced rate of VAT would be a "successful" or "highly successful" way of encouraging their customers to commission energy efficiency work. In addition, almost twothirds (65 per cent) said a free energy efficiency assessment would encourage more of their customers to improve the energy efficiency of their home. Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB, said: "It's time for the government to accept the Green Deal has not been a success. Until our members see a clear demand for Green Deal work and a more straightforward route to the Green Deal market, they will not engage with the scheme." GAS 'Faux winter' sees 65pc spike in usage Energy firm Npower reported a 65 per cent spike in gas usage on the weekend of 21/22 September, as households temporarily put on their heating because of a 'faux winter', where it feels colder because of a hot summer. While gas usage was 15 per cent higher than it was at the same time last year, the temperature was only 0.25°C cooler. Patrick Purcell, Npower's gas usage expert, said: "We wouldn't expect to see 'the big switch on' until mid- to late October." I am the customer Lewis Shand Smith Recent research carried out by independent UK research agency You Gov shows that customers are confused about where to go when things go wrong. Around 43 per cent of people are not confident they would know who to contact with an unresolved complaint. In many areas of the private sector there is no independent redress for dissatisfied customers. However, proposed European legislation will radically alter this landscape. The EU's directive on alterna- "Ombudsman Services is ready to spread its wings" tive dispute resolution compels member states to ensure independent redress schemes are available for all consumer transactions. Schemes must be compliant and be able to deal with cross-border disputes. I believe passionately in the work of the ombudsman – we really can and do make a dif- 24 | 4th - 10th October 2013 | UTILITY WEEK ference. A dispute over £100 may not seem a lot to a global company, but it makes a huge difference for the person struggling to make ends meet. Easy access to an independent means of resolution not only gives a measure of protection, but also gives consumers confidence to engage with the market. This year we will resolve 24,000 cases for various parts of the private sector. Our processes are sharp, our technology leading edge, we are free to the consumer, low cost to the industry and we have shown we can move into new jurisdictions. We are ideally placed to expand our remit, and across EU borders. We are ready and willing to be the consumer ombudsman. Chief Ombudsman Lewis Shand Smith Ombudsman Services

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