Ofgem to Crack Down on ‘Shocking’ Customer Service
In a significant move to enhance customer service, the UK's energy regulator, Ofgem, has introduced new rules to prioritise vulnerable customers. These regulations, set to come into effect on 14th December 2023, are a crucial step towards improving customer satisfaction and providing more transparent information to bill payers.
The New Rules
Energy companies will now be required to take proactive steps when customers miss payments. After two consecutive missed payments, the supplier must reach out and assess whether the consumer is struggling with their energy bills. If a customer is experiencing difficulties, energy firms must offer appropriate support, such as affordable payment plans or even repayment holidays.
Energy suppliers will also be obligated to make their Citizens Advice customer service ratings public. This new transparency allows consumers to compare different companies based on call waiting times and the quality of assistance they provide.
These new standards have been developed following a consultation conducted throughout the summer and aim to make it easier for customers to contact their energy suppliers and access support.
Speaking at the Energy UK conference, Ofgem boss Jonathan Brearley issued a strong warning to energy suppliers: “With recent global events increasing pressure on gas prices, it’s likely that bills will rise further. This is why the industry needs to do all it can to ensure good customer services and provide help with managing debt, especially for the most vulnerable.
“In the last year, we have seen some good examples of suppliers stepping up their support for customers. However, despite this, the feeling of those on the frontline working with vulnerable households is that more still needs to be done. Long wait times to speak to someone on the phone, letters not replied to and a lack of empathy for people’s personal circumstances.
“This needs to change, and today we are setting out our expectations of suppliers this winter, and how they will be held to account to ensure consumers can get hold of them more easily. In particular, for vulnerable customers, we expect more proactivity and a more sympathetic response.”
Pressure from Other Groups
Gillian Cooper, Head of Energy Policy at Citizens Advice, said: “Aggressive debt collection by energy suppliers can make a difficult situation so much worse for struggling households. In an era of high energy prices and record energy debts, treating customers fairly is more important than ever. Any firm letting its customers down should rightly expect enforcement action.
“Ofgem is also right to make sure struggling customers can easily contact their supplier. Poor performance here will be reflected in our star rating which all suppliers will now be required to publish. If you have energy debt it’s important to speak to your supplier as soon as possible.”
End Fuel Poverty’s coordinator, Simon Francis, added: “It’s not enough for energy firms to just pick up the phone to customers struggling with their bills. With soaring energy debt levels, people need to have their concerns dealt with efficiently and in a sympathetic manner.
“We hope that as the new guidance is implemented, Ofgem will expand the measures it uses to assess energy firms’ performance. As well as ‘contact ease’ being measured and published, the regulator should also consider ‘contact success’ and ‘contact empathy’ as measures of performance for energy firms.”
A Step Forward?
Ofgem's new rules represent a significant step towards improving customer service standards in the energy industry. These regulations should create a more customer-friendly and supportive energy market by prioritising vulnerable customers and promoting transparency.
As energy prices continue to rise in the UK, these measures arrive at a crucial time, providing much-needed assistance to households struggling to manage their bills.
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