Which? reveals true scale of unreported energy complaints

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New research from Which? reveals that industry data vastly underestimates the true scale of energy complaints – with consumers feeling let down by suppliers on billing, payments, customer service and switching.

Analysis from the consumer watchdog found that if every customer who had reason to complain to their supplier in the last year had done so, energy companies would have received around 6.9 million complaints – almost three million more than the estimated total actually received by suppliers.

The figures serve as a warning against complacency across the industry ahead of the release of Ofgem’s latest figures on customer complaints. A Which? survey of more than 8,000 people suggests many fed-up consumers may simply be too disillusioned to kick up a fuss. 

Energy companies collectively received around four million complaints during the last year, according to Which? analysis of Ofgem data. However, a Which? survey found two in five (42%) people who felt they had reason to complain to their supplier in the last 12 months failed to make the complaint – the equivalent of 2.9 million complaints.  

Nearly a third (30%) of those who had a complaint but did not complain said they felt it would not make a difference if they contacted their supplier with their grievance. A quarter said they could not be bothered to make a complaint (24%), or did not have time (23%).  

The top reason for having a complaint was billing and payments. Three in five (57%) said their bills or payments gave them a reason to complain.

Poor customer service was the second most common reason for energy customers having a reason for complaint – with more than a quarter (27%) noting it. 

Problems with switching were a real cause for concern considering that changing supplier is often the best way for customers on poor value deals to save money. Almost one in five (18%) people said they had reason to complain about switching.

Natalie Hitchins, Head of Homes Products and Services, Which?, said: 

“Millions of energy customers are complaining about billing errors, poor customer service, or switching problems, but many more are so fed up that they don’t even think it’s worth picking up the phone – which suggests suppliers need to up their game.

“Our energy satisfaction survey shows some firms handle complaints much better than their rivals, so it’s always worth raising an issue with your supplier. You may find they resolve your problem swiftly – or realise that it’s time to think about switching.

“Anyone unhappy with any aspect of their energy supplier’s complaints handling or customer service should consider shopping around – you could find a firm that better meets your needs and potentially save hundreds of pounds a year.” 

  • Which? surveyed 8,353 UK adults in September 2019. Fieldwork was carried out online by Dynata and data have been weighted to be representative of the GB/UK population (aged 18+)

  • Which? used the latest Ofgem data for supplier complaints (last updated November 2019), customer account numbers (correct January 2020) and market share (correct January 2020) to calculate how many complaints were made across all energy accounts (where a customer with both gas and electricity counts as two accounts) over the last year.

  • This was combined with Which? survey results (showing that 42% of those who had reason to complain to their energy supplier in the last year did not do so) to calculate the potential number of unmade complaints in the last year.

  • Which?’s latest energy satisfaction survey is available here: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/energy-companies/article/best-and-worst-energy-companies/which-energy-survey-results

  • Ofgem’s latest complaints data will be released on 27th February 2020.

  • Earlier this month, Ofgem announced it will extend compensation rights this spring for customers who face delays when switching or their final bill takes too long. 

Chris Price
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