Utility Week

UTILITY Week 21st November 2014

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UTILITY WEEK | 21sT - 27Th NovEmbEr 2014 | 25 Customers I am the customer Lewis Shand Smith "The big six will lose 25% of their customers by 2020" While last year seemed to be the year of reckoning for the big six, it seems 2014 has been the year of action for many consumers as they begin shunning the major players in favour of smaller firms. Years of price rise scandals, Ofgem investigations, wide-scale media backlashes and public dissatisfaction have spurred con- sumers into voting with their feet and demanding more for their money. Over the past four years, more than two million house- holds have switched to a small the energy sector, we have seen the number of customer com- plaints rise to 37,061 for the first three-quarters of 2014, while the total for the whole of 2013 was considerably lower, at 17,948. If the big six are to retain their customer base then a lot more must be done to reverse percep- tions, address issues of poor customer service and place more emphasis on value for money. Lewis Shand Smith, chief ombudsman, Ombudsman Services energy supplier – with around 100,000 customers switching every month since June 2013. What's more, the exodus looks set to continue as analyst Citi- group predicts the big six – who currently supply energy to 95 per cent of all UK households – will lose a quarter of their customers by 2020. The end of many fixed- price tariffs and the onset of win- ter are also likely to exacerbate this trend, driving more cash- strapped consumers to cheaper deals offered by the 18 smaller domestic energy suppliers. Yet price isn't the only driver; poor service and price hikes have begun to erode trust in the big six. As the sole ombudsman for This week Consumers find PR14 proposals acceptable Two-thirds of water customers find the price review proposals acceptable in a CCWater study Two-thirds of water customers find the 2014 price review (PR14) proposals put forward by Ofwat acceptable, according to a study by the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater). A total of 67 per cent of "informed" customers found the proposals for water bills acceptable; 64 per cent for the sewerage proposals; and 59 per cent for the combined water and sewerage proposals. CCWater surveyed 10,967 customers – 500 from each water company area, except for 490 in Dee Valley and 477 in Sutton and East Surrey's areas. These customers considered the acceptability of the dra determination aer receiving year-on-year figures for average bills across the five years (including inflation) and informa- tion on the key services to be delivered. Two sets of fig- ures were created – informed and uninformed – which gauged reaction to the general headlines of the impact on bills, and a more detailed reaction with the impact of inflation included. A total of 74 per cent of "uninformed" customers found the PR14 plans acceptable when they considered the impact on bills without any figures presented. This fell to 60 per cent for water proposals, 56 per cent for sewerage proposals, and 55 per cent for com- bined proposals, when the impact was presented as a monetary change and the effect of inflation added. CCWater chief executive Tony Smith told Utility Week: "The more you tell customers what they are getting, the more likely they are to find it acceptable." MB ElECTriCiTy UKPN launches power cut helplines UK Power Networks (UKPN) has launched emergency helplines for customers suffering power cuts this winter. The distribution network operator (DNO), which runs the electricity network across Lon- don, the southeast of England and East Anglia, introduced two helpline numbers – a freephone number for landlines and a local rate number for mobiles. Since last year's storms, when 358,000 customers had their power supply cut and hundreds remained without electricity for up to five days, the company said it had invested more than £500 million in main- tenance and upgrades to make sure its network was "robust and reliable this winter". The DNO added that over the past four years it has reduced the number of power cuts by 30 per cent and their duration by 40 per cent. Matt Rudling, UKPN director of customer services, said "com- munication with customers is a top priority" and revealed it had added 900 trained call handlers to its staff to "improve our cus- tomer response". Ofgem examined the perfor- mance of UKPN, and that of SSE, aer the Christmas storms and fined the companies a total of £8 million for their poor perfor- mance in reconnecting custom- ers and failing to adequately inform them what was going on. ENErgY Extraenergy wins 30,000 switchers Independent energy supplier Extraenergy is set to gain 30,000 customers aer submitting the winning tariff to a collective switching scheme, according to the Big Deal. The supplier, which launched in the UK domestic market in March, offered customers who signed up to the scheme, run in collaboration with The Sun, a 12-month fixed deal for £949. The Big Deal claimed the tar- iff is "£11 cheaper than the best tariff on switching sites". ENErgY Half will adopt pay- as-you-go, says study Around half of Britain will use smart pay-as-you-go (PAYG) ser- vices to buy energy when smart meters are installed across the country, independent research by Populus has revealed. Its study conducted for Smart Energy GB shows that even at the beginning of the six-year national rollout, almost half (48 per cent) of people would like to use a smart meter in PAYG mode. At present, only 16 per cent of households use the existing prepayment system to pay for their gas and electricity. Glass three-quarters full: 67 per cent approved

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