Utility Week

UTILITY Week 23rd October

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This week SIM scores 'may take priority over service' NI Water 'doubts' that building a business plan to satisfy SIM would 'build trust' with customers Water companies could start to develop business plans to score well against the service incentive mechanism (SIM) rather than to achieve good outcomes for cus- tomers, Northern Ireland Water has warned. Speaking in a panel discus- sion at Utility Week Congress in Birmingham last week, Northern Ireland Water's customer service director Liam Mulhol- land said the SIM introduced to drive customer service levels in the water industry was having unintended consequences. He said: "It created a world, if you like, of computer game cheats, which asks, 'when is a contact not a contact? When is a complaint not a complaint? And how does that impact my score?'" Mulholland said he "doubted" whether building a business plan to satisfy SIM would "build trust" with customers. "I think you need to go back and think about it and say, 'there is a different way into that. The key thing I want to get to by doing all the surveys and the engagement and the focus groups is actual data, some- thing that actually tells me what is going wrong, what I can do to fix it next time that can change the brand'." Mulholland was agreeing with Thames Water's chief customer officer, Andrew Reaney, who said the "size of the penalties and incentives can deliver the wrong behaviours". Reaney said: "You can look to pass the exam and manage the [assessment] week. You can do that if you have the capacity. I think that can deliver the wrong behaviours and that won't be a good thing for customers." LD ENERGY Ovo cuts dual fuel price by 1.7 per cent Independent supplier Ovo Energy has cut the price of its fixed dual fuel tariffs by 1.7 per cent to pass on a fall in wholesale costs. The supplier said it is cutting the price of both its 12-month fixed pay monthly Better and Greener energy plans for new and renewing customers to pass on "a small downturn in whole- sale commodity costs". Renewing customers will save £79 on the price they paid on joining Ovo this time last year, now paying £857, with the 1.7 per cent drop representing a £14 saving over a year. ENERGY Smart rollout 'once in a lifetime' chance The smart meter rollout is a "once in a lifetime" opportunity which must not be missed, energy supplier SSE has warned. The firm's director of meter- ing and smart transformation, Sara Jane Asquith, told delegates at Utility Week Congress it is "vital" that the industry gets the rollout right, because it is a "once in a lifetime" opportunity. "It's really important that we've got the right governance and assurance in place so that we can all be confident in cus- tomers' eyes that we're doing the right thing," she said. "We've got three years to get the nation energised, engaged and enthused and at home, more importantly, for the appointment slot for smart meters. That is not going to be easy." Asquith said the industry must be "realistic", suggesting a target of 100 per cent by 2020 was "not possible to achieve". How- ever, she added, smart meters are a "huge opportunity" and "we have to get it right first time, because there is only one time". ENERGY Consumer interest 'is underestimated' Green independent energy sup- plier Good Energy has warned utilities not to "underestimate consumers" and think that just because it is utilities that con- sumers are "not interested". Speaking to delegates at the Utility Week Congress in Birmingham, Good Energy chief executive Juliet Davenport said: "I think we spend too much time telling everybody that the energy industry is really complicated – it's not that complicated." She said a letter sent by Good Energy to its customers informing them of a price rise was appreci- ated by them because "we did a lot of work in explaining what the bill was made up [of]". "We actually got lots of com- pliments about putting custom- ers' prices up, so my personal view is, don't dumb it down." Under pressure: SIM delivering wrong behaviours I am the customer Gillian Guy "Companies are not learning from repeated failures" The average household spends around £1,400 a year on electric- ity and gas. When things go wrong, consumers can be le out of pocket, without energy and unsure of where to turn. Around 20 per cent of households complain to their energy provider every year and Citizens Advice is oen the first port of call when people have an issue with their supplier. Of the 100,000 energy complaints received by Citizens Advice in the past year, two-thirds were and help make the market work for consumers. We will continue to work closely with energy companies, the ombudsman and the regula- tor, to fix problems in the market by sharing data and learning from consumer experiences. Consum- ers trust Citizens Advice to help when they are struggling to heat their homes, and getting them the support they need is only possible if all parties work together. Gillian Guy, chief executive, Citizens Advice about billing, with issues such as late bills, unsent bills and large back-bills being commonplace. Billing problems tend to arise when suppliers have changed their billing systems, leading to glitches and system errors. The persistence of these prob- lems, however, cannot be attrib- uted to specific system changes, but to companies not learning the lessons from repeated fail- ures, and treating complaints as isolated incidents. Citizens Advice and Ofgem will work together to strengthen the role of the energy ombuds- man. A strengthened energy ombudsman can help to address repeated and systematic failures UTILITY WEEK | 23RD - 29TH OCTOBER 2015 | 25 Customers

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