Utility Week

UTILITY Week 7th November 2014

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26 | 7th - 13th November 2014 | UtILItY WeeK Customers I am the customer Jo Causon "Is this the best way to deal with vulnerable customers?" Utilities – and water companies in particular – face a difficult challenge to manage relation- ships with customers who have not paid their bills, but cannot be disconnected. One response is for compa- nies to write to customers as though they are a third party collection agency, to stimulate customers to contact them and make arrangements for payment. But is this the most appropriate and effective way of managing vulnerable or in some already make provision for the cost of collecting payments in their charges. Loss of trust and reputation with these customers should be weighed against the financial returns of measures to reduce non-payment of bills. Perhaps both companies and customers would benefit more from greater efforts to help customers better manage both their water use and finances. Jo Causon, CEO, Institute of Customer Service cases, challenging customers? It has been argued that the practice is efficient because it drives up payment of outstand- ing bills. But at a time when the utilities sector as a whole is experiencing historically low levels of customer satisfaction and trust, and is under keen scrutiny from politicians, media and the public, perhaps the business case is less clear. There are links between customer satisfaction, trust and likelihood to remain a customer. Anything that could undermine customer trust must be looked at closely. Many customers who pay their bills promptly may rea- sonably assume that companies This week Scottish Power faces big rise in complaints Supplier blames introduction of new customer system for jump in number of complaints Scottish Power has recorded the biggest rise in the number of complaints received by any of the major energy suppliers, according to figures from Citi- zens Advice. The number of complaints against the company increased from 197.7 per 100,000 customers between January and March this year to 256 per 100,000 between April and June. This is a big increase on the 46.2 complaints per 100,000 customers it recorded in June to September 2013. Scottish Power said the increase had partly been caused by "our people adapting to our new £200 million customer system". It added: "We will continue to have the longest call centre opening hours in the industry, and we are committed to restoring our customer service levels to the highest possible standards." Npower remained the most complained about of the major energy suppliers, with 647.9 complaints per 100,000 customers, although this was down from 664.8 per 100,000 customers between January and March. Npower has been at the bottom of the complaints table for the past two years aer it implemented a new billing system. When British Gas introduced its new billing system in 2006, the number of complaints almost tripled to 250 per 100,000 customers by the end of that year. At the other end of the table, SSE remained the least complained about supplier, with 33.7 complaints per 100,000 between April and June 2014. Eon (79.2 per 100,000) came second. JB eNergY Independent firms face Ofgem probe Ofgem has launched an inves- tigation into two independent business energy suppliers aer they attracted high numbers of customer complaints and a refer- ral by Citizens Advice. BES Commercial Electric- ity, an electricity supplier, and Business Energy Solutions, a gas supplier, will be investigated to ensure they are trading in a transparent and fair manner and have not provided customers with inaccurate and mislead- ing information, particularly in reference to their handling of deemed contracts and electricity meter readings. BES Utilities, the parent company of BES Commercial Electricity and Business Energy Solutions, said: "We will con- tinue to provide Ofgem with our full co-operation, as we have done over recent months, and hope that this matter can be resolved as soon as possible." eNergY Suppliers exceed Warm Home duties Energy suppliers have exceeded their obligatory duties under the Warm Home Discount (WHD) by £24 million, according to Ofgem. The regulator's annual report on the third year of the WHD scheme said vulnerable custom- ers received a total discount of £291 million off their energy bills, more than the suppliers' minimum obligation. More than 1.8 million custom- ers received a rebate of £135 to help with their energy costs during the winter of 2013/14. A further 500,000 customers received other types of support. Two new suppliers, First Util- ity and Utility Warehouse, joined the WHD scheme last year, "resulting in the benefits of the scheme being available to the customers of more suppliers", the report said. eNergY 1.2m could switch in collective scheme Up to 1.2 million consumers could change energy supplier under a collective switching scheme launched by a consumer website. MoneySavingExpert.com says members of its Cheap Energy Club could cut their annual energy bills by up to £230. Members are being offered a 12-month fixed deal for £950; a three-year fixed tariff at £1,099 a year; or a green tariff for £1,055 per year. The average big six standard tariff is £1,180. "We've used the bulk power to negotiate tariffs that substan- tially undercut anything else being offered on the open mar- ket," said MoneySavingExpert. com founder Martin Lewis. Npower still most complained about supplier

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