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The prize for awful customer service goes to…

One energy company has a particularly dire track record when it comes to customer service, as Which? chief executive Peter Vicary-Smith knows only too well.

Atrocious. Pathetic. These are some of the printable descriptions you’ve sent us about a company that has been a consistent performer in our satisfaction surveys – finishing bottom for its industry seven years in a row.

One such result may be regarded as a misfortune; seven times requires extraordinary incompetence. Step forward Npower.

Bad customer service

I’ve had the ‘pleasure’ of experiencing this first-hand since I moved house last August to a property with slightly complicated meter arrangements – it had been a holiday-let business as well as a home.

This meant that a business tariff applied to some of the property. Incumbent supplier Npower was given a meter reading but still tried to apply a bill for hundreds of pounds – presumably on the basis that I was running a small factory.

My meter reading, it would seem, had disappeared into a hole.

Staff continually denied that I (or rather my account) existed.

One set of customer service staff told me not to pay the business bill. Fine. But their counterparts sitting at the business customer desk began chasing me for not paying the bill their domestic colleagues had instructed me to ignore. The left and right hands saw no merit in communicating with each other.

Worst of the energy suppliers for staff knowledge

It’s no surprise to me that, of all the energy suppliers, you identified Npower as the one with the least knowledgeable staff in our new survey of the best and worst customer call centres.

It took eight months of emails, unreturned calls, endless waiting on the line – often 20 minutes before a human deigned to answer – conversations that went in circles and a folder full of contradictory bills and correspondence before I got a proper bill and acknowledgement that I existed. More importantly, it meant I could switch.

Npower’s customer score in our 2015 energy companies survey was a pitiful 35%. In comparison, four top-rated energy suppliers have a customer score of more than 80% – Ebico, Ecotricity, Good Energy and Ovo Energy.

One respondent summed up their experience of Npower like this: ‘They have no interest in customers; customers are a necessary evil.’ This description will ring true for thousands – it certainly does for me.

Have you experienced particularly good or bad customer service? What do you think the energy companies can do to improve their customer service?


I nominate Apple for good service. They carried out repairs free-of-charge on my MacBook Pro, estimated at over £840, free of charge. I had learned that my computer might be eligible for free repair thanks to an article on Which? Tech Daily and I cannot fault the service on the phone (I carried out numerous tests directed by a technician) and in the Apple Store.

Perhaps Scottish Power deserves a prize for awful service for increasing my direct debit by 40% despite the fact I was in credit – without even informing me by email. Since then the have reduced the direct debit to less than it was in the first place.

I forgot to mention that the computer was three and a half years old and had been used heavily.

Wavechange Scottish Power reduced my Direct Debit to a very unrealistic amount two months before the end of my fixed tariff in an attempt (I assume) to dupe me into believing I would be better off with them and I ended up in debit as a result which I have now settled and switched to Ovo Energy one of the medium suppliers recommended by Which? I have since received slightly cheaper offers from SP but have declined stating that service was as important to me as price and I was happy to pay what amounted to a couple of pounds extra in return for better service and also in an attempt to discourage the big 6 monopoly.

I am wondering why you haven’t switched yet if you are unhappy with the service you receive from Scottish Power.

I think the arbitrary raising of direct debits by the energy companies should be outlawed. They seem to make no allowance for the fact that we are now entering the warmer season and will have four months with significantly lower heating bills. They take the Autumn and Winter quarters’ consumption, extrapolate that across the year and say “we’re increasing your monthly payment”. They certainly shouldn’t amend the deduction before you find out about it. My energy supplier does at least tell me before it actually happens but I would still like to have the option of thinking about taking further energy conservation measures and other economies. Moreover, they should not assume that people’s bank accounts can accommodate an increase in their monthly outgoings at a moment’s notice; they might have to cut something else out in order to afford it, which in turn might involve giving notice. More people today are over-committed than under-committed I expect.

Beryl – After a difficult switchover from e.on to Scottish Power (possibly not all the fault of SP), I had no problem whatsoever and renewed for a further year. The substantial increase in direct debit did not cause me problems, but a 40% increase without prior notification could have taken some people into an overdraft, with associated charges. I look forward to hearing of how you get on with Ovo.

Will keep you posted Wavechange.

Jane Frost says:
5 June 2015

Scottish power are doing the same to everyone.

I’ve told them that I look at it yearly.

They were £500plus the £300 plus in credit in the last two years.

One penny over this year and I’m gone.

After I submitted my last meter readings on-line to Scottish Power a window popped up proposing to increase my monthly payments. As this was at the start of summer, I was already slightly in credit and I was already paying £2pm more than the monthly amount THEY predicted when I re-signed to a new 12 month Contract in March, I was a little surprised.

However, I did find it very simple to refuse their proposed rise and as I recall it is relatively easy to just change your monthly DD payment on-line on the SP website.

I bank with a building society and not Scottish Power, so like everyone else I do not wish to run a large credit balance. Having said that, I am sure that most of us also find it beneficial to even out our payments over the year, rather than face stiff bills during the winter.

I fully accept that on-line account management is of no help to those not online.

My bills for summer holidays are a lot more than my energy bills, so it does not help if an energy company is keeping hundreds of pounds of my money. I would like to pay for the amount of energy I have used, but I cannot do this by direct debit and I would have to pay a higher price. Crazy. 🙁

wavechange, “I would like to pay for the amount of energy I have used, but I cannot do this by direct debit”
You can buy energy from a number of suppliers paying for what you have used, rather than by a fixed monthly amount. Use Which? Switch for example and under “payments” choose “Direct Debit” and then “Monthly variable” or “Quarterly variable”.At least it worked for my part of the world. The lowest tariffs offered were comparable with fixed monthly.

Thanks Malcolm. I assure you I have done this periodically and the fixed monthly direct debit has always worked out cheaper. I mentioned that Scottish Power put up my DD by 40% in January and then down to less than what it was originally a couple of months later. I did not realise that I had signed up to the SP Lottery Tariff. 🙁

As an energy company has no more work to do (has it) in charging by direct debit for actual use (i.e. monthly or quarterly variable) rather than average use (monthly fixed) then I see no reason why the annual charge should be any different. In some cases that is true, in other cases it is significantly more. Something the CMA and Which? might look at. Variable charging takes away the problem of building up a big credit, or a big deficit.

I have discussed this with e.on (and their predecessor Powergen) and Scottish Power on numerous occasions and they want people to build up credit in the summer months in preparation for higher use in the winter. They are legally allowed to do this and it means that we are helping their cash flow situation.

We need the government to make the rules, not the companies. I have nothing against people choosing to build up credit with their energy supplier or having a pre-pay meter if that’s what suits them.

I prefer to build up credit where I can have access to it if necessary. In nearly fifty years of paying energy bills I’ve never been in arrears but the suppliers give no credit (!) for that. Once you’re on the direct debit scheme it’s like a never-ending yo-yo.

wev says:
28 May 2015

Has Amazon improved its customer service for faulty Kindles, or is it still bad?

Bookworm123 says:
5 June 2015

I don’t know about customer service for faulty kindles – but will say that I had to return two DVDs which I ordered in error. The refund was credited back to my account within an hour of my taking the returns parcel to the Collect+ shop. That is probably the quickest refund I have ever had, despite the blurb on the Amazon website saying it would take 3-5 days.

We never found out from Which? what they did about these complaints, did we? And I think we are still waiting to here from them about Sony Xperia Z phones. Perhaps we could be updated?

We never did find out about the Kindles or Xperia phones. Both are mobile devices and may suffer from rough usage, as can be seen from the number of people using phones – of all brands – with cracked screens. Mobile devices should be designed to cope with everyday use, but the owner should not expect abuse to be covered by their warranty.

I suggest that Amazon and Sony agree to independent testing of their products to see if they are sufficiently durable for everyday use. I’m not convinced one way or the other, though I don’t understand why Sony uses glass for the back of their phones, an obvious and unnecessary potential weakness.

Which? were supposedly doing tests on Sony phones but we’ve heard no more. Do Which? subscribers consider this poor customer service I wonder? 🙂

On the other hand, Which? has recently produced a rather good super-complaint and seems to be engaging more with the general public than in the past.

Hi guys, just on Kindles. We didn’t see a higher reliability problem with the Kindle than other e-readers in our reliability survey, but due to the number of comments and reports we had we covered the issue in the magazine. We also changed the way we did our reliability surveys to try and pick up problems with e-readers. We also introduced a drop and scratch test to our e-reader tests.

On the Sony phones, I know this has been very frustrating. We tested a number of Xperia phones in our labs to see if we could recreate the problems. We haven’t yet found anything inherently problematic, which is why we’ve been quiet. We’re looking into whether there are any other tests we can do. However, we have taken the comments very seriously and have spent a lot of time setting up specialist tests to see what we can uncover. I should do better at keeping you informed, but trying to keep our cards close to our chest while we still investigate. Thanks again.

Thanks Patrick. Is there any way you can compare the incidence of Xperia screen breakages with those of other phones? If there were a significantly higher proportion then that would indicate an inherent fault – either design or manufacture – even though your testing on a few phones has not identified a specific problem. Maybe your European partners have information – have they been involved?

katharine quarmby says:
29 May 2015

I completely agree about Npower (which I have just left, due to its customer service and high utility fees). I had a dual fuel agreement with them and they insisted on me having two direct debits for gas and electricity. Both ran up high amounts of credit which I asked for back. They then forgot to re-install a charge for the electricity direct debit so when I left them several months later, I had run up a bill of £350 because they had forgotten to charge me month by month. They said they didn’t tell me because they didn’t know how to and offered £10 in compensation. As Npower were charging me month by month for gas I hadn’t noticed the lack of charge for electricity. I found their attitude very arrogant and dismissive. So glad I have left them for another supplier.

I thought one of the beneficial economies that suppliers could make in order to give a dual-fuel discount was single billing and single direct debits but some of them persist with separate statements and separate charges. If you have paperless billing you have to hunt around on their website for the two statements and if you tend to print them off, as I do, before you know it you’ve duplicated all the admin guff. Our current supplier E.On does at least take a combined direct debit. I prefer this because I like to keep just in credit overall, not have one up and one down. I think most energy companies could still pull a lot more costs out of their systems and cut prices.

Jennifer says:
29 May 2015

Because you know what’s coming. Companies will start charging you extra to use human attended checkouts.

Sceptic says:
30 May 2015

So far as I can see, the Regulator Ofgem is so thoroughly useless that transferring staff from that diabolically incompetent pair Npower and Scottish Power would actually improve Ofgem’s effectiveness.
Why aren’t Which campaigning to have the senior staff of Ofgem sacked for total ineffectiveness?
Just how long do Npower and Scottish Power have to go on hanging on to other peoples money before the Regulator gets off its overpensioned backside and makes some effort to do its job?
Will Which publish a list of the names of the incompetents at the Regulator so that we may treat them all with the contempt that they deserve.
Stop pussyfooting around Which and earn the subscriptions that for over 30 years I have been prepared to pay but am rapidly revising my willingness to carry on coughing up for no effective action by Which. You take your members willingness to pay, too much for granted.

Hi Sceptic, we’re running two energy campaigns at the moment: Fair Energy Prices, aimed at tackling energy prices, which people tell us are their biggest worry. This influences the CMA market investigation and provisional remedies are due out later this month, with final remedies due in December. The other campaign, Fix the Big Six, covers a range of other issues, including energy efficiency and costs on bills. What we do after these has yet to be decided, but ideas are always welcome.

We engage with Ofgem and, following new leadership last year, we have seen an improvement in the relationship and they are imposing bigger and more creative fines on energy suppliers. But more needs to be done to make the market fairer for consumers.

Andrew, I hope you will end the unfairn and illogical petrol pump pricing campaign and look more objectively at how energy should be sensibly paid for that discriminates against as few people as possible. Incidentally, Ofgem have asked energy companies to look at pricing for non- and low gas users and the vulnerable to make sure they are not disadvantaged by the present system. I posted a link on the “Our five tests for the energy investigation” conversation.

Fines are pretty pointless, aren’t they? Just like the banks they are a cost of doing business to many companies and they end up being paid by the customer. Where there has been deliberate malpractice, those who direct and / or manage it need to be held responsible. The threat of personal sanctions may inhibit them from committing misdemeanours in the future.

Andrea White says:
31 May 2015

Surely Scottish Power must be somewhere at the top!

We changed supplier in November 2014, our account eventually! after 5 emails and 10 phone calls! showed a credit balance of more than £300, but they wouldn’t pay up. It’s now been in the hands of the ombudsman for 4 weeks.

I hat e to play the poor pensioner card, but they are so bad on so many levels. Like why did they let our account get so far in credit and WHY haven’t they paid us what they owe us?

Jane Frost says:
5 June 2015

Simple.. They give you a cheap rate to get your business ….then up the direct debits hoping that you won’t notice.

They get the interest on it.

I’m almost going back to paying a quarterky bill.

It’s just not worth the hassell trying to get your money back.

Sceptic says:
1 June 2015

Hi Andrew Collins of Which, Why aren’t you running a campaign to get the Regulator to do something effective about Npower and Scottish Power who repeatedly delay repaying their ex customers?
Which Conversation has produced plenty of examples of this malpractice, as have the financial pages of the weekend newspapers. Which is in grave danger of becoming a wishy washy talking shop instead of an effective campaigner for consumer interests. Have you told Ofgem that it is disgraceful that they have done nothing effective about the bad practices of the above two suppliers.
Huge fines or withdrawal of licence to supply can be effective provided customers have the willpower and means to change to alternative suppliers.
This is why the malpractice of the above two suppliers is so appalling because it inhibits their existing customers from moving to a new supplier because they (rightly) fear they won’t get their existing credit balance back in any time much less than a year.
I repeat my opinion that Ofgem are hopelessly ineffective and a major overhaul of their method of operation is urgently needed. Which should be campaigning for this as a priority.

Hi Sceptic, sorry for the delay in replying. Consider your points very much taken on board. Late repayments are definitely on our agenda, and among other problems in the energy market, we’ll be working hard on your behalf to get the regulator and suppliers to sort these issues out.

Am I missing a point here ?

Do not most people make payments to energy suppliers via Direct Debit ? If so and you have a large credit balance, do you not have the right to reclaim payments under the DD Guarantee scheme ?

This might just be my simplistic way of looking at things but energy billing surely isn’t rocket-science? It’s not like they have to shovel coal or open valves…it’s just billing us at the agreed rate is it not? Even trained monkeys could probably get it right within the 7 year time-period…there’s an opportunity for some aspiring entrepeneur…”MonkeyTricity”

Mike the Manager says:
19 July 2015

Reading through the assembled gripes, grumbles and repeated complaints, without once mentioning my incumbent supplier (SSE – Scottish & Southern) convinces me that, whilst they may not (dunno – never looked!) be the cheapest, there is a great benefit – I never have to complain to them about errors..

If you save twenty (or a hundred) quid but then spend hours of your life sorting out c**k-ups (real, imaginary or “failures to communicate”) then have you actually “saved ” money? What value do we place on our time? My wife and I have busy working lives and I really do not want to spend time sorting out c**k-ups. “Stick with the devil you know” should, I suggest, be a part of your lexicon.

SSE have billed accurately for over ten years (including at my late mother’s house, which we have just finally sold). Phones are answered in a reasonable time, billing is accurate AND, on the two occasions that we have felt that SSE were hanging onto rather a lot of our money, they have reimbursed it into our bank accounts the next working day.

SO, apart from the fact that they are based in Perth and have “Scottish” in the title (we were ready to declare UDI for England after last year’s referendum), I cannot fault them.

Are we at risk of becoming “penny-wise and pund-foolish”??


Add Utility Warehouse to your list of bad customer service. They rely on customers to take meter readings but then ignore those readings, estimating usage 6 times the actual meter reading and then taking that sum by direct debit. Despite repeated assurances they would stop this practice, they continue.

A year ago I switched to Scottish Power because they offered the best tariff for my usage. There were hiccups and I spent some time sorting them out but, in the end, we were on track.

Last night I put in my monthly meter readings and checked my account. I saw that a change i made over the phone on October to a lower fixed-price tariff seemed not to have been implemented. Inwardly groaned as I saw a protracted telephone/email saga to both put that right and recover the money I should have saved.

I decided to do it by email to customer services. First one sent at 6:30 pm and received the automated reply “we reply to 95% of customers within 48 hours, and the rest in 5 working days”. I was surprised to have a real reply at 7:15 confirming I was still on the old tariff. 2 more emails from me were replied to within 25 minutes and they have not only put my original request in place from the original date, but replaced it now by their latest slightly cheaper tariff. I checked my online account and it’s all done as they said.

I cannot complain about their customer service this time round – seems like a transformation has taken place (or just luck?).

After less than two years I am giving Scottish Power the boot. As I mentioned above, they increased my direct debit by around 40% without even sending me an email, and I only found the information when I logged in to provide meter readings. Not long after, they decreased the direct debit to less than the original payment. Since then, the direct debits have gone up and down for reasons that are not always obvious, but at least I have not been more than two or three hundreds of pounds in credit, as happened when I was with e.on.

Scottish Power does not appear to know that I’m leaving them in a couple of days (maybe not their fault) but now I see two accounts with the same number when I log in. 🙁

The best experience I had with Scottish Power was their call back facility, which I used a couple of times when I had problems switching to their service.

Congratulations Wavechange, I hope you don’t mind too much if I say about time 🙂

Don’t forget to cancel your DD asap so that any outstanding balance is used up during the transitional switchover so that you finish up owing them to avoid any prolonged hassle in obtaining any refunds owing.

You don’t say who you are switching to, so keep us posted. I am so far very happy with OVO as it keeps me in control of my usage and I am able to increase or decrease DD payments according to my usage and there is always the facility to top up payments if necessary, all dependent of course on regular monthly submission of meter readings.

Most importantly as far as I am concerned, they are not one of the Big Six.

I’m moving to Ovo, as you have recommended, Beryl. 🙂

I will make sure that the direct debit to SP is stopped and I don’t expect there will be much credit because my use in the past couple of months has substantially exceeded the payments.

I will report back – but hopefully not on this Convo, which is about poor service.

Hi @beryl – Unfortunately Scottish Power had taken another direct debit payment by the time I cancelled my DD. There was no email about what would happen to my credit balance and not even in the correspondence section to acknowledge that I had left them. Fortunately it both gas and electricity accounts are now marked ‘closed’.

While trying to contact SP about this I discovered the following on their website:

I’ve closed my ScottishPower account
Please supply meter readings to your new supplier. If you supplied actual meter readings to them and the balance of your final bill is greater than £5, we’ll provide your refund automatically.
We’ll do this directly into your bank account if you pay by Direct Debit or we’ll send you a cheque if you don’t. Either way your refund will be with you within 14 days. Please don’t cancel your Direct Debit until we’ve issued your refund. If you have then we’ll refund your credit by cheque and this may take an additional week.

Obviously it was too difficult to send me an email.

Just tried to contact my Energy Supplier Co-op Energy Sat morning 10.00 at 11.20 still had not spoken to an advisor. Thankfully it was an 0800 number so I left line open to see how long it would take to answer and after 1 hour 20 minutes got fed up and hung up. I couldn’t get into my account as their IT system must be inferior because this happens every time I use it . I don’t care how ethical and cheap they pretend to be , I will be leaving them ASAP.