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Energy customer satisfaction – how’s your supplier’s service?

Bulbs being held

The results of the biggest ever energy company satisfaction survey are out. And it’s not good news for the major energy suppliers. Would you be prepared to switch energy provider for better customer service?

In our biggest ever energy company satisfaction survey, we asked more than 10,000 people about their experiences with their energy suppliers. Our full table of results shows ratings and customer scores for 15 energy companies in Britain and two in Northern Ireland.

The smaller suppliers scored highly, with Good Energy finishing top, followed by Ecotricity, Ebico and Utility Warehouse.

Meanwhile, the biggest energy suppliers were left out in the cold. SSE, Eon, Scottish Power and British Gas lagged behind their smaller competitors, while Npower and EDF Energy came bottom of the table.

The results highlight yet another example of how the energy market is broken with the largest suppliers, who dominate the market, failing to compete on customer satisfaction. At Which? we’re calling for radical new action to increase competitive pressure so that you can be certain you’re getting a good deal. We want the introduction of a single unit price so that energy costs can be easily compared at a glance, just like petrol forecourt displays, making it easier for you to find the best deal.

The power of customer service

Best and worst energy suppliersGood customer service had a big impact on how companies scored in our survey. Good Energy and Ecotricity both scored the highest mark with five stars. Down at the bottom of the table, EDF Energy and Npower only scored two stars for customer service.

We also asked for people’s experiences with their energy supplier’s customer service. This Npower customer struggled to get any service at all: ‘They don’t answer my emails’.

An EDF Energy customer was left hanging on the line: ‘It takes far too long to get through to someone on the phone’. British Gas could have been more helpful for this customer: ‘Not at all helpful when dealing with queries’. And SSE gave one customer the silent treatment: ‘They never returned my phone calls’.

What’s the cost of good service?

Our survey also showed that good customer service doesn’t have to mean paying a premium for it.

Good Energy was about 20% more expensive than the cheapest deal on the market, but that’s just £42 a year more than British Gas’ standard tariff*. Other small suppliers like Ovo Energy and The Co-operative Energy have some of the cheapest tariff on the market at the moment. So, getting good service doesn’t automatically mean having to compromise on price.

Have you had a good experience with your energy supplier, or have you found its customer service seriously lacking?

*Tariff price comparisons based on average annual consumption of 16,500 kWh of gas and 3,300 kWh of electricity, paying by monthly direct debit, credit meter (not Economy 7) and for the region closest to average. Correct on 10 January 2013.

Comments

Been with SSE for 12 yrs.. great customer service until you ask how to save energy or get your meter flow checked. Then you get the office runaround. No-one is willing to physically visit to check existing systems and offer advice.. It is all phone/web based. They take your mojney very effiecintly and friendly , but ask for help on saving fuel and the whole system grinds to a halt. If you ask for any physical help, your firmly on your own.

In September 2012 I decided to change suppliers at a holiday rental cottage that I own. It has electric heat and is expensive to run. I used a comparison website and Npower came up as the best choice. I was switching from Scottish Power. I started the transaction, received a verification from Npower and thought I was on my way. It is now running towards the end of January and I have had to fight with Npower to 1. acknowledge that we were customers, 2. get a direct debit set up and 3. take a meter reading. I have kept copies of every email that I sent them regardless of whether or not they answered. The last email I had was last week telling me it would take 28 days to set up a direct debit and then they would be asking me for a payment. And they still don’t have a meter reading. However, Scottish Power were very efficient, took the final meter reading and refunded me money right away. I should have stayed with them.

Lawrence Williamson says:
26 January 2013

I’ve been with OVO for just over 2 years. Previously I was paying around £145 per month for gas and electricity with Scottish Power. OVO quoted me £85 per month at the time; (a sunstantial saving). Because my wife was ill at the time and we were using our heating more than normal I contacted them and agreed to pay a small amount more. Since then the tariffs have gone up but not by the percentages seen elsewhere.

I’m also involved with a local club where we have to shop around every year. Last year British Gas came out cheaper so we moved back to them. They have recently quoted us around a 100% increase for 2013 – 14. The trick is that if we do not give them notice that we are leaving we are deemed to have accepted this. We fell for this sharp practice a few years ago and it cost us dear.

I’d like to see OVO in the business market.

john says:
26 January 2013

I don’t understand your 2* value-for-money rating for N-power. Even using your own comparison tool they come out cheapest for me. (Electricity only, 3000kwh per annum)

Nick Robinson says:
26 January 2013

I also have had lots of problems with OVO and their direct debits over the last three years, every six months without fail they have written to increase our DD substancially even tho we have always remained in credit by hundreds of pounds. Each time I have to go through a painful discussion with them where they initially refuse to moderate the DD then finally relent when we project our average annual use, their charges and the proposed DD to come to a likely figure of £500/£600 credit in a years time if our useage dosent change. I know they pay 3% interest on credit balances but frankly they are using customers as cheap funding for their business, I would rather be only an electricity customer of theirs and not a cheap lender to them.

At the moment I’d jump at getting 3% on my savings – so providing you can get access to your credit balance, stick with it.

I am on a fixed tariff with eon they reduced my monthly payment against my wishes and now they have doubled it because I was not paying enough. They have admitted it was amistake but will do nothing about it. I made an official complaint 6 weeks ago and they still have not replied.

I suggest you ring e.on on 0345 300 6301 and be polite but positive. They should have a record of previous correspondence.

John says:
26 January 2013

I’m rather upset by your findings as I joined the Big Switch campaign and you advised me that First Utility offered me the best deal (better than the Co-op). As a result of that, I switched to First Utility. I now see that they do badly in this survey. Does this mean I should switch again? I would welcome your advice.

Jane says:
26 January 2013

We are with EDF and have been on the receiving end of a couple of years of appalling customer service. Setting up FIT payments took months and months, we have had endless phone calls with different staff who promise to sort out incorrect bills but then do nothing, placatory letters from more senior staff who also seem to do nothing but the worse thing is that the (multiple) bills have been wrong yet it has taken massive arguments to convince them that their system is not working. Surely everything cannot be down to ‘new computer systems’ or ‘individual staff issues’. I’m afraid I am now very cynical about them. Their lack of transparency and poor communication have been wearing to deal with and taken up an extraordinary amount of time. I would never recommend them but, unfortunately, I’m a bit wary of moving companies because of the FIT payment situation and am not sure how easy it is to switch with this in place.

Jane, you could send them a bill for the time you have spent on this.

Please what is FIT? I would start the complaints process if you are unsure ask WHICH for help or CAB. Any paper bill should explain their complaints procedure.

When my ‘fix’ with Npower came to an end I opted for an ‘unfixed’ rate. A month later I decided to go for a new fixed rate & found Npower very accommodating & efficient, they even waived the penalty which would have been due.

I’m with Scottish Hydro on the Isle of Bute.We were completely without power for up to four days last winter. They have been working very hard to ensure it doesn’t happen again. We were very grateful to the workers who risked their lives in the terrible conditions. However I feel that more consideration should be given to community energy projects in more remote areas, which have the option of being on or off grid so that if the grid is down we could still have energy.

Anyway Scottish Hydro Bills seem to be intentionally misleading, particularly for busy people who would just pay the bill without realising that they have an ESTIMATED BILL,”estimated” being in pale green whilst the rest of the statement is in black letters which is often vastly higher than a reasonable estimate! You have to request the ACTUAL bill. I don’t have the figures now as I’ve thrown out the estimated bills unfortunately.
There’s no excuse for estimated electric bills as the meter is on an outside wall.

Jane says:
27 January 2013

Hi Busby. Feed in tariff (FIT) payments are the payments you get for generating power for the grid from your own solar panels (or other energy source). The money comes from the government but is administered by the energy companies. I have complained many times to EDF using both online complaints procedure (acknowledged automatically with a promise of a prompt response but then nothing), by phone and in writing. I’m sick of waiting on the phone listening to musicand being passed from pillar to post before getting anodyne responses which boil down to – our system/bills cannot be wrong, we’ve got a new computer system and it’s not quite right yet, we’re short of staff but are recruiting at the moment and eventually “Sorry”. Finally I have had a letter which says they are taking action against some staff and acknowledging that bills have been incorrect and much of the energy use info wildly inaccurate and therefore useless. I must admit I used to trust bills but now I scrutinise them very carefully. That is when I get one. Nowadays EDF only send a bill if I send in a reading and they have stopped asking for readings on a regular basis. ‘Customer service’ in EDFs case is an oxymoron!

Thank you for the info very informative. I was wondering if you have tried any of the organisations who we pay a fortune for as tax payers that are supposed to help us sort out these scoundrels and also your politician they are supposed to give assistance. Wish you luck with this problem.

T Leadbeater says:
28 January 2013

My one year contract with Eon has just ended so they automatically put me on the “standard” tariff, which is not the cheapest, and proposed raising my monthly direct debit by £30 despite presently being in credit. Where pray are the Energy Companies mending their ways.

I am very peeved with Scottish Power. I changed suppliers from Scottish Power and supplied them with meter readings which took them to 4 days before the transfer of service. They continued to take direct debits from me and locked my account so I could not get access to see what they were doing. Then they invented some meter readings so that all the money they took from me would be swallowed by the final bill leaving me with a small amount to pay. I protested and now they have issued a cheque for the refund for my gas bill. I don’t know what is happenning with my electricity bill. Why do they issue me with a cheque when I am on direct debit? The cheq

The cheque had on it : “We can only refund money by cheque.” and “”we’re committed to listening, learning and getting it right for you” I am going to challenge them on these aspirations.

A loyal customer with EDF for 3 years (have found them until now very good)I was surprised to discover they had increased my monthly DD payments by £18 (I’m on their Blue+ Price Promise Fixed September 2013 tariff) even though my account was in credit (at the time of year when fuel usage was at its highest) and spot-on target for kwh usage based on actual consumption over the last 3 years. Having utterly wasted my time in conversation with a polite and well-meaning but ultimately pretty-near-useless phone operative in the sub-continent, I eventually got through to a chap from Sheffield, who after some discussion about my usage and “projected usage” (I hadn’t read the bit in the small print about the need to consult a crystal ball!) he quietly and calmly reduced my payments to what they had been before the increase. He did try and fob me off with some pretty feeble guff about “reviewing my payments from time to time”, but then, when I asked him directly about why this was necessary when I understood that there would be a full annual review just before the end of my first year on the tariff, he had to admit that yes, any “projected shortfall” would be adjusted then, bearing in mind there would still be 3 full months left on that tariff. I cannot criticise the tariff as it is certainly the cheapest going for my needs, but it seems that EDF are now treading the same well-worn path that other big players seem to do, by weaving such a complicated web of “terms and conditions” that they hope to baffle customers into paying more than they actually need to with a view to taking the customer’s money, squirreling it away in their corporate coffers and making interest on it before magnanimously refunding any “credit” on the account to the customer at the end of the tariff period. Dress that up in any “business-speak” or soundbite language you wish – it’s pure and simple sharp practice and it spits in the face of any customer who is naive enough to believe that customer loyalty to any energy provider is a given, and actually counts for anything with the big players.

It must be very tempting for these companies to increase the cash coming in their business. As you say there is nothing to be gained for being loyal. Do like I do and review and change suppliers after each contract. Hopefully they won’t mess up and do you over when you change over. he he.

Janet Williams says:
30 January 2013

I’m pleased to see Ecotricity placed second in your survey. I swapped to this small company (for electricity & gas) a couple of years ago after reading that they are a ‘greener’ company than most, trying to increase the amount of electricity they produce sustainably. We don’t have a big income, so it’s good to know that they are charging fairly too.
I have to say their customer service is second to none, in my experience.
Also, they make a substantial donation to a charity (The World Development Movement, which helps campaign for fairer practices in business, farming, governments etc to help, rather than rob, the poorest people) each time a new customer joins, if they apply through the charity.
Janet Williams

Peter says:
31 January 2013

I was a dissatisfied British Gas Customer for many years, ever aware that I was being ripped off on price. I looked at changing supplier a couple of times over the years but never did, because it was so difficult to compare prices of different suppliers tariffs and apathy set in when I envisaged getting tied into a contract with a worse supplier.

However, I operate a policy whereby I refuse to allow any company access to my bank account via direct debit, I refuse to pay estimated bills and I refuse to pay random monthly amounts which bear no relation to the energy I consume. These are all the little tricks that large corporations use to confuse their customers and make money at their expense by earning interest on the Customers money that they hold. This is why these companies are continually trying to increase the monthly amounts that customers pay into credit accounts.

I made sure that British Gas didn’t make any extra profit from me. They frequently sent me estimated bills, which I ignored until final demands arrived, at which point I submitted my readings and ensured that I only paid for my actual consumption upon receipt of an accurate bill.

Last year I took the plunge and joined EBICO. From my experience I would certainly recommend them.

They operate a single one tier tariff (one price per unit for all the electricity or gas that you use) regardless of how you are billed and pay. So I pay quarterly on receipt of my paper bill in the post and pay the same rate as someone who pays by monthly direct debit and reads their bill online.

There is no tie in and I am free to leave at any time with no penalty.

I can submit my own meter readings to be billed against.

Ebico Customers are actually serviced and supplied by Southern Electric and I have been very impressed with their Customer Service; very helpful staff and every time you contact them you get a follow up call to ask if you are happy with their service.

Ebico are a Not For Profit Company, meaning that they have no Shareholders, so in theory are run for the benefit of their Customers. Obviously this doesn’t automatically mean they will be cheaper than a company run to make a profit for its shareholders. They have operating costs, including salaries and being a small company may pay more for the energy that they buy to sell on to their Customers.

Anyway, I am paying less now than I would have been if I had stayed with B Gas. From the WHICH? survey above, I may not be with the cheapest supplier but I am out of the ‘Rat Race’ with a clear and transparent tariff and receiving good Customer Service. I am so happy to no longer be experiencing the poor Customer Service and British Gas ‘Bull’. It took several attempts and several months to move away from them. They apparently employ dirty tricks to prevent (or make it as difficult as possible) for Customers who have decided to leave them to do so. It transpires that when you apply to join a new supplier your old supplier can tell your new supplier that they refuse to release you and the new supplier won’t accept you. Even though I didn’t owe them any money, British Gas did this to me twice, without explanation, until I threatened them with the Ombudsman and legal action, at which point they released me. They then sent me a Final Bill based on their Estimated Reading!

John Baynes says:
31 January 2013

Well done Dale and all the staff at Ecotricity,at last you are recognised for all the hard work you have done for Green Power over the years,well done!!!!
From one of your first clients.

T. Francis says:
31 January 2013

I left npower partly because I could get a better deal elsewhere but mainly because of their bad customer service. When I saw that my payments were not covering my usage I phoned them to ask them to review my payment plan. This they said they could not do as they could only review usage every six months and a review would not be made for another few months. I explained that I would be further in debt to them by then. This made absolutely no difference to their inflexible system. They should realise that if customers payments are falling behind in the summer months they will be in even more debt to them come winter.
When I transfered to my new supplier I was in £218 in debt to npower. I was told that they could give me a payment plan to settle this debt and would contact me in due course. This did not happen, they just took the money out of my bank account without any warning. This caused me considerable hardship as I am on a pension. I personally believe that they allow customers to get into arrears with them to deter them from leaving.

Terry, I’m with npower. After changing my meter, and electricity tariff to a lower one ( they were charging economy 7 instead of a single tariff) they stopped taking electricity direct debit to presumably correct my account. They then forgot to restore the DDR. Like you, I didn’t want to be in deficit so emailed them. They rang me quickly, I made a payment by card over the phone, and all was back to normal easily – the opposite (but excellent) customer service to what you experienced.

maureen says:
31 January 2013

I am with British Gas. Recently I received my bill, my so called simpler bill. It so complicated to check out without having a maths degree. I had used 36 units on my meter and after they had performed their calculation, this turned into 39 units. Why cant they just charge per unit as is on the meter like the electricity does.

Also has anybody noticed that previously they sent a quarterly bill, and the first so many units are at one rate and the rest is at a cheaper rate. My latest bill is showing that they are now doing this monthly, by estimating the amount for each month.

Not only have they adjusted the unit costs, so in fact an overall rise in the cost, by charging each month they are now getting the higher rate units three times each quarter, so another overall rise.

Why cant they just charge per unit, and leave the complicated workings out from therm to kw to unit for those that understand it.