Making a complaint
Where you have a problem with the conduct of an energy company, and you cannot get it resolved or correspondence is ignored, make a complaint. This is important as both Ofgem and the Energy Ombudsman expect you to use the complaints service, if you are capable, before contacting them.
If you have asked an adviser or another person to make the complaint for you, give them a signed authority to act for you, allowing information about you to be released.
Regulations lay down minimum standards for dealing with complaints by suppliers.1Part II & III GE(CCHS) Regs If making a complaint, you should request a copy of the company complaints policy.
Definition of a complaint
A complaint is any expression of dissatisfaction made to an organisation, related to any one of its products, its services or the manner in which it has dealt with any such expression of dissatisfaction, where a response is either provided by or on behalf of that organisation at the point at which contact is made or a response is explicitly or implicitly required or expected to be provided thereafter.2Reg 2 GE(CCHS) Regs
This definition is wide enough to include an independent subcontractor used by an energy supplier to carry out certain tasks – eg, the enforcement of warrants of entry and the fitting of prepayment meters. If a subcontractor behaves wrongly, a complaint can be made under the regulations to the supplier who appointed her/him.
A complaint may be made about any of the following:
•billing – including the accuracy of bills, frequency of billing, estimated bills, inaccurate bills, sending bills to the wrong address and issuing bills to the wrong person;
•sales – including misleading sales information and behaviour of sales staff;
•transfers – problems that occur when switching suppliers;
•meters – including faulty meters, inaccurate meter readings and problems with fitting and changing meters;
•prices – increases of prices on agreed contracts, misleading price information, problems with direct debits and credits, payment schemes and lack of notification of increases;
•access – problems with access to low-income schemes, special tariffs and government schemes;
•debt – problems with debt, disconnection and payment of arrears and failure to apply for Fuel Direct where available;
•customer service – inconsistent or inaccurate information, failures by staff, delay in responding to enquiries and problems with prepayment cards.
A supplier is required to have a complaints procedure in place and must comply with it in relation to each complaint it receives.3Reg 3(1) GE(CCHS) Regs The procedure must:4Reg 3(3) GE(CCHS) Regs
•be in plain and intelligible language;
•allow for complaints to be made and progressed orally (by phone or in person) or in writing (including email);
•describe the steps it will take to investigate and resolve your complaint and the likely time this will take;
•provide for an internal review of your complaint if you are dissatisfied by the response.
The supplier must provide details of sources of independent help, advice and information. To be independent, the advisers must not be connected with the energy company.
It is possible for many complaints to be resolved at the initial contact or within a couple of days. The complaints that suppliers are unable to resolve so quickly are more likely to be recorded by the supplier as a complaint. Ofgem focuses on those complaints that remain unresolved by the end of the working day after the complaint has been recorded. Complaint data on companies is available from the ’big six’ suppliers since October 2012 and on most of the medium and smaller energy companies since 1 April 2013.5Ofgem, Supplier Performance on Consumer Complaints This information provides data for potential enforcement action and the imposition of penalties. Ofgem has already taken action over suppliers’ complaint handling. In December 2015, Npower had a £26 million penalty imposed as a result of billing and complaint handling failings and in April 2016 Scottish Power had to pay out £18 million for similar failures. Your right to refer your complaint to a qualifying redress scheme (eg, the Energy Ombudsman) from the point at which the supplier notifies you in writing that it is unable to resolve your complaint to your satisfaction should be explained. Your supplier should send information on potential redress schemes when this point is reached.6Reg 6(1) GE(CCHS) Regs It must notify you:
•of your right to refer your complaint to a free redress scheme which is independent from your supplier;
•of the types of redress;
•that any outcome of the redress scheme process is binding upon the regulated provider but not upon you.