Utility Week

Utility Week 13th February 2015

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UTILITY WEEK | 13TH - 19TH FEBRUARY 2015 | 25 This week Complaints fuelled by rise of social media Ombudsman Services says complaints to the energy industry reached nearly 7.3 million in 2014 There has been a marked increase in consumer complaints in the past year, fuelled by the growth of social media, a report from Ombudsman Services has found. The 2015 Consumer Action Monitor, commissioned by the ombudsman, revealed that the number of complaints made to the energy industry reached nearly 7.3 million in 2014, representing 11 per cent of overall complaints made. A comparison with last year's figures shows a fall in the proportion of active complaints in the energy sector, down from 17 per cent in 2013. But the report says this is "no reason for complacency", as the number of cases dealt with by the ombudsman itself has almost tripled in the past year, in part fuelled by greater use of social media, which provides customers with a platform for complaining directly to companies. Data shows that more than 20 million complaints to all sectors were made last year through social media such as Facebook, Twitter and consumer forums. Speaking at the briefing, chief ombudsman Lewis Shand Smith suggested the sharp rise in the number of complaints in the past year is evidence that customers are "less willing to stand for poor service and poor quality". "However," he continued, "we're also seeing millions of problems that aren't taken up with suppliers." The report highlights cynicism and mistrust towards big businesses as a major factor in customers not follow- ing up complaints, with 33 per cent of people believing big businesses are "only interested in money". LV WATER Affinity smashes social tariff target Affinity Water has signed up more than double its initial customer target to its social tariff scheme in its first year. A minimum target of 7,000 was set for the first year of the Li social tariff scheme, and since April 2014 more than 15,000 households have signed up in what has been labelled a "transition year" to test how the scheme works. The tariff is available to house- holds with incomes of less than £15,860 or in receipt of housing benefit or income support, and they receive a flat rate tariff of £95. From April this year, the scheme will be updated to offer households with incomes of less than £16,010 a £90 flat rate tariff. Affinity Water director of cus- tomer relations, Vince Muldoon, said: "Our teams have worked hard to ensure the proposition is transparent and accessible. "We have made sure the application process is quick and easy for vulnerable customers, helping those most in need." ELECTRICITY Solar group adds a community pledge The Solar Trade Association (STA) has committed to push for greater local and community ownership of UK solar projects through its best practice stand- ards for the sector. The STA said it has amended its "ten commitments" stand- ards, which are agreed by all its members, to include a pledge to make investment opportunities such as bond offers and local authority partnerships available to local communities "where there is local appetite and where it is commercially viable". ENERGY Suppliers offer remote control heat EDF Energy and SSE have both announced the launch of remote control heating options that allow customers to control their heating via an app on a smart- phone, tablet or PC. EDF launched HeatSmart, a smart thermostat developed in partnership with electronics company Netatmo, which means customers can "reduce wasted energy without cutting back on comfort". Its features include a "Frost-Guard" function to protect the heating system from freezing in winter. Meanwhile, SSE has part- nered with European smart meter provider tado to offer a smartphone app that automati- cally senses when no-one is at home and turns down the heat to save energy. As soon as the customer starts to head home, tado reacts to warm the house to the desired temperature. Social media saw 20 million complaints overall I am the customer Andrew Hallett "Suppliers: take the initiative with very low gas users" Citizens Advice has concerns about the consequences of Ofgem's Retail Market Review on very low gas users. Ofgem made suppliers introduce a standing charge (which could be zero) and unit rate structure rather than a two-tier tariff, arguing that this would improve comparability. When the new rules began, we saw cases of confused and worried consumers whose bills skyrocketed despite using tiny amounts of gas. We are challeng- ing suppliers to not waste this It's key that meter removal is a last resort aer a prompt to consider using more gas and so save money in the long term. Suppliers could take the initia- tive and contact the consumer when, say, a bill is generated that is more than 90 per cent standing charge. We have written to suppliers and will keep the pressure on while appealing to their enlight- ened self-interest. Andrew Hallett, policy manager, Consumer Futures chance to help all these consum- ers improve their properties in the longer term. These consumers do not have to be de facto "off-gas". We want suppliers to discuss: • The very significant relative economy and efficiency of using gas for space heating over all other fuels, especially in maintaining a consistently dry and warm home; • The subsidised and "free" schemes that exist (such as the Energy Company Obliga- tion) to install things like radiators and new gas boilers; • Signposting and referring to trusted bodies that can assist with these processes and consumers' options. Customers

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