Utility Week

UTILITY Week 5th September 2014

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26 | 12th - 18th September 2014 | UtILItY WeeK Customers This week Smart meter savings 'dwarfed by costs' the smart meter rollout might cost much more than thought and deliver much less, says pAC UK consumers could be forced to foot an £11 billion bill for the government's planned smart meter rollout, which may deliver savings of just 2 per cent on the average annual bill, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has warned. PAC chair Margaret Hodge warned that consumers could be set to pay £215 per home over the next five years to install the meters because the government is depend- ing "heavily" on its assumption that competition in the energy industry will control costs and deliver benefits. "Relying on market forces to keep costs down may not be enough on its own to protect consumers," Hodge warned. In the PAC report published 10 September she urged the Department of Energy and Climate Change to moni- tor the progress, costs and benefits during the rollout to identify whether changes could be made to deliver the 53 million smart meters at the lowest cost to consumers. She said the government should require suppliers to provide a clear breakdown for consumers of the cost of smart meters, the possible cost savings and whether consumers achieve the expected reductions in energy consumption. On September 9 Scottish Power Energy Networks chief executive Frank Mitchell said the rollout could be more efficient and cost-effective if it was handled by the distribution networks rather than the suppliers. He said that was the way it had been done "in every other country worldwide". JA energY First Utility reaches customer milestone Independent energy supplier First Utility has passed the one million customer accounts mark, as a growing number UK energy consumers opt for smaller pro- viders over the big six. The company said it supplies more than 550,000 custom- ers, most with both gas and electricity, and now holds a 2 per cent share of the retail market, compared with 92 per cent held by the big six. However, the majority stake held by the incumbent providers is down from 96 per cent in 2011, which First Utility says is down to smaller providers' ability to offer "lower energy prices and better value for the UK con- sumer". WAter Water customers 'suffering in silence' Customers struggling to pay their water bills are missing out on the support being offered by the water companies, the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) has revealed. A study released by CCWater this week stated that some con- sumers "suffer in silence" rather than seeking help from their water company. It added that customer awareness of support schemes remains low. CCWater said it will use the findings to work with the water industry to identify how support for those in debt or struggling to pay their bills can be improved, while boosting awareness of existing assistance measures. Andy White, senior policy manager at CCWater, said: "One in five water customers now tell us their water bill is not afford- able – compared with one in eight last year. The water indus- try should make it a priority to ensure customers know help is available and how to get it." eLeCtrICItY SSE freezes NI domestic prices SSE's Northern Ireland electric- ity supply arm, SSE Airtricity, is to freeze its standard rate household electricity prices. This follows an announcement this week by the utility regulator (UREGNI) that there will be no change to incumbent Power NI's regulated electricity tariff. UREGNI confirmed that the regulated electricity supplier, Power NI, will not alter its domestic prices. The regulator's CEO, Jenny Pyper, said: "Given the ongoing volatility of electric- ity costs over the past number of years, no change to electricity prices is a welcome outcome for households. This is in the context of increasing prices in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland over the past year." All smiles: is optimism on costs justified? I am the customer Nick Hague "Ask questions you might not like the answer to" With sustained political cam- paigning whipping up negative feeling towards the UK energy sector, customer service has never been more in the spot- light. This pressure will intensify in the run-up to the 2015 general election, a reality that should provide suppliers with the impe- tus to review their strategies. Having run customer-focused research projects for energy companies for several years, I've seen first-hand that scoring high satisfaction requires a thorough Asking questions, particularly those you might not like the answers to, is key. Customer sat- isfaction surveys, combined with reporting and management tools, are a proven route to making improvements. The most sophis- ticated approaches include online detractor management systems, which aim to convert unhappy customers by allowing firms to rectify problems as soon as they are identified. Nick Hague, director, B2B International and consistent approach. Energy suppliers have historically let themselves down by focusing only on a few major interac- tions with customers – normally contract renewals or customer complaints – while neglecting the smaller touch points that are oen equally important from the customers' point of view. Customer satisfaction isn't just driven by these larger 'hygiene' factors that every supplier must get right to stay in the market. It is oen achieved through soer, less obvious ele- ments. By mapping a customer's 'journey' through your organisa- tion, these can be identified and then monitored and improved.

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