Utility Week

Utility Week 10th January 2014

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Customers This week Ombudsman Service reports 106% increase in number of complaints made compared with 2012 Energy complaints doubled in December The number of complaints made to the Ombudsman Service about the energy sector in December 2013 has more than doubled compared with the same period in 2012 (see below). A total of 1,805 complaints were received last month – an increase of 106 per cent from the 872 complaints made in December 2012. Tough world for consumers July and October 2013 had the highest number of energy complaints in the past two years, with the Ombudsman Service receiving 1,867 total complaints about the energy suppliers and networks in each month. Chief energy ombudsman Lewis Shand Smith said: "Our complaints figures tell us just how tough things are for consumers. We are now receiving more than 300 complaints a week and often these come from people who have been confused by the tariffs on offer. "Ofgem's new rules make life simpler and fairer for consumers, which can only be a good thing." Energy UK said "most customers have no problems" with their energy company and agreed with the ombudsman that Ofgem's new regulations will improve things for consumers, but did acknowledge that things can go wrong on occasion. In a statement, the trade association added: "The ombudsman acknowledges in its statement that new rules brought in following Ofgem's review of the energy retail market will make things easier and more straightforward for consumers. "No one wants to see complaints rise, but companies use the information to improve the service they provide." MB energy Independence key to solving fuel poverty Scottish independence is "needed to tackle fuel poverty", according to the Scottish National Party (SNP). Figures from the Scottish government revealed that the number of households in fuel poverty in Scotland fell from 721,000 (30.5 per cent) in 2011 to 647,000 (27.1 per cent) in 2012. At the same time, the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group warned that 300,000 UK homes could enter fuel poverty this winter. SNP energy spokesperson Mike Weir MP said: "The SNP has stated that in an independent Scotland we would remove the cost of energy efficiency measures from bills and place the cost on central government funds – reducing bills by 5 per cent or an average of £70 a year. "The Scottish government is doing everything it can to provide energy efficiency measures to individual households and local authorities, and that is having a positive effect, but Westminster is failing to keep pace. We need the full powers of independence to fully tackle fuel poverty." energy Fears over rising fuel bills put OAPs at risk One in 10 pensioners have said they are being forced to stay in bed longer to keep warm as a result of rising energy bills, according to a survey by Saga. The poll, commissioned by the Press Association, also revealed that one in eight OAPs planned to stop using parts of their homes. Almost two-thirds (64 per cent) said they had to wear extra layers of clothing, while a fifth planned to cut back on other spending so they could afford to heat their homes. Paul Green, Saga's director of communications, said: "Spiralling fuel costs are striking fear in the hearts of some, but not all, pensioner households. For some, the fear could mean they won't turn on their heating on, and in so doing, risk their own health and welfare." efficiency Call for Eco scheme to be run locally Local organisations should be given responsibility for the Energy Company Obligation (Eco), according to Consumer Futures. The consumer body is calling for the running of the energy efficiency scheme to be transferred from energy suppliers to local organisations, and funded through general taxation. Mike O'Connor, chief executive at Consumer Futures, said this would "improve the effectiveness" of the scheme, with local organisations delivering Eco on a street-by-street basis. I am the customer Lewis Shand Smith The new year in the energy sector started with Ofgem's announcement that it was enforcing a series of changes to pricing tariffs aimed at making costs simpler to digest for the customer. As the ombudsman for the energy sector, we wholeheartedly welcome the changes. There is no doubt that action was urgently needed. Complaints about energy companies are on the rise, demonstrated by our latest figures, which show the numbers for December 2013 "There is a yawning trust deficit in the energy sector" were up 106 per cent on the same month in 2012. By restricting the number of tariffs customers are faced with and spelling out costs more clearly, the sector will go a long way towards pacifying consumer angst. Ofgem's figures show us that there is a yawning trust deficit in the energy sector: nine out of 10 people believed recent energy price rises were about companies trying to boost profits. Greater transparency is the best antidote for this, but there are other actions the energy companies can take to make sure customers get a fair deal. One of them is to make people more aware of what they can do if they have a problem and want to complain. The same Ofgem figures tell us that only one in 20 (5 per cent) of energy customers who have a problem take it as far as the Energy Ombudsman – a figure that must change if we are to bring a greater sense of fairness the sector. Lewis Shand Smith is the chief ombudsman. For more information on the Energy Ombudsman, visit www. ombudsman-services.org UTILITY WEEK | 10th - 16th January 2014 | 25

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