We’ve all heard people complaining about poor service from their energy companies. We’ve all read newspaper articles about inaccurate bills and unanswered queries. We’ve all seen the hefty fines handed to companies for failing customers. In truth, the energy sector has not covered itself in glory handling consumer complaints.
But householders do not need to grin and bear it. Legal and other changes to consumer protection offer increased support to aggrieved customers. All the major energy companies are now answerable to an Ombudsman. But to take action, the Ombudsman needs to be satisfied that the consumer has followed due process.
The key is to organise and press your complaint in a calm and thorough manner. That is why Age UK has teamed up with Ombudsman Services to provide a helpful guide to effective complaining, ‘Know your energy rights’. Copies are available from www.ombudsman-services.org/later-in-life and local Age UKs may be able to help you further.
Ombudsman Services is a not-for-profit private company, and adheres to the principles of the Ombudsman Association. It covers a number of service sectors, including telecoms and rented property, but energy is its fastest growing concern. The tide of complaints against energy companies continues to rise and most are about delays in repaying overestimated bills.
Ombudsman Services can be contacted and forms (on which to submit a complaint) can be accessed through the Ombudsman Service website ,or by phone on 0330 440 1624, or by post at Ombudsman Services: Energy, PO Box 966, Warrington WA4 9DF. Importantly, this service is free to the customer.
Other sectors may also be covered by different Ombudsman and the Ombudsman Association has an online guide to help you find the right ombudsman to deal with your complaint – check www.ombudsmanassociation.org.
Basically, your energy company has eight weeks from first hearing from you to resolve your complaint. You need to keep a clear record of all the phone calls, letters and emails between you and the company. If after that period you are still unsatisfied, you can take all your records to the Ombudsman, who will then intervene in the matter.
The Ombudsman has a very good track record in steering cases to a swift and satisfactory resolution. Last year, whilst 140,000 customers contacted the Ombudsman, only 61,500 could be progressed (the other were either premature, out of date, of lacking sufficient information), but of those, 46,500 cases were resolved within six weeks. The great majority were about billing, such as disputed charges, inaccurate invoices, or consumers not receiving a bill at all.
Age UK wants more older people to know about the service, and to use it to get satisfaction. There is no need to sit in silence feeling aggrieved and unsupported. We’ll only get better standards of service from energy suppliers if we complain vigorously and effectively.