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Energy companies – stop being so pernickety about our bills

Magnifying glass

When energy prices are being hiked all over the place is it really fair to penalise customers further for insignificant issues like the name that appears on your bill? In my mind, these are just dirty pricing tactics…

Although we spend quite a lot time complaining about the behaviour of banks here on Which? Conversation, one other industry that is in close competition when it comes
to poor customer service is energy companies.

Over the last few years, fuel bills have rocketed, with prices being increased yet again this summer. Understandably, customers have been left feeling angry at the fact that price changes only ever seem to go in one direction.

When energy companies put up their rates, they invariably blame the rise on ‘wholesale prices’. Yet, they seem to take much longer to drop the prices when the wholesale rates come down.

Dirty pricing tactics

But high prices are not the worst of it when it comes to energy companies. It’s the tactics that some have resorted to, in order to try to squeeze that little bit extra out of their customers, that have left me most angry.

Having been with the same energy provider, EDF, on the same tariff for many years, I recently received a letter informing me that the details on my gas and electricity accounts were slightly different, and so I would no longer qualify for my ‘dual fuel discount’, unless I called to set the record straight within 30 days.

When I finally rang, the problem was explained to me: although my name and address were correct on both my gas and electricity accounts, one of the accounts also included another name: my wife’s.

This additional name on one bill but not the other had apparently left EDF with no choice but to remove my dual fuel discount until I called to clarify the matter.

EDF should behave better

This letter was not specially generated for me. The call handler informed me that it had gone out to lots of customers with the same problem, many of whom will not have opened their mail and will now see their bills rise for no good reason whatsoever.

I seriously doubt that the presence of an additional name on my account makes any difference to EDF. But even if it does, it’s certainly not a fair excuse for upping my bills. Any straightforward company would have simply called to clarify and set its systems straight.

These kind of low-level inertia tactics were pioneered by the banking sector, and it’s a great shame to see yet another industry arguably treating its customers with contempt.

Gerald Johnson says:
13 September 2011

We hear about our energy bills rising rapidly in Britain, due to the rise in the wholesale prices of gas and oil, but we do not hear in the press or on television as to how our energy costs compare to the other EU and non E U countries. Are we being ripped off in Britain?

I recently transferred from Scottish Power to Cooperative Energy for both gas and electricity. I was a bit surprised to see on my final account statement that SP had levied over £25 +VAT as a cancellation charge. It was probably in the small print of the tariff contract and I had not noticed it but it still struck me as a disproportionate amount. Even though I am paying more with the Coop than I was with SP I think the longer term position will be advantageous since I was expecting a hefty hike with my next quarterly review and I was already a bit behind on electricity and not much ahead on gas before the first winter quarter kicks-in. I like the way Cooperative Energy does business – much more open and honest and straightforward. No hidden snags in the contract. Surely won’t penalise customers for correcting their address details.