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What do you think about your energy supplier?

We’ve published the results of our annual energy satisfaction survey – once again finding that the Big Six energy suppliers aren’t up to scratch. So, is your energy supplier one of the best or one of the worst?

In our latest energy company satisfaction survey we asked 8,902 people about their experiences with their energy suppliers. And once again we’ve found that the smaller energy companies are topping the table for customer satisfaction. There’s a distinct gap in customer satisfaction between them and the Big Six (those are Npower, British Gas, Scottish Southern Electric, Eon, EDF Energy, and Scottish Power).

Does size matter?

Overall the average customer score for satisfaction from their energy company was just 53%. But, smaller companies certainly seem to be leading the way.

OVO Energy once again came out on top with an 82% satisfaction score, and were closely followed by Good Energy with 81%.

Nicki told us that her experience with a smaller energy company has been positive:

‘They are always friendly and helpful – unlike my experiences with other suppliers. I haven’t had any problems, I like the app and that they are using more sustainable energy where possible.’

The Big Six companies continue to lag behind the small companies, with none featuring in the top group of our survey. Disappointingly Npower have come last for the sixth year running with a 41% satisfaction rating.

In response to our findings, Npower’s Managing Director, Simon Stacey said:

We’re really disappointed to see these results. We have been focussing our efforts on improving our overall customer service and we are seeing results improve in some key areas as this report shows. For example, complaints have dropped by nearly 70% compared to last year. We recognise we still have a huge amount of work ahead of us to do and we’re absolutely determined to get it completed as fast as we can.

Interestingly, what we found was that almost nine in ten of the people we surveyed remain customers of the Big Six suppliers, and only one in ten having switched energy provider in the past year.

As a customer of larger suppliers, Sandra shared with us her experience with us:

‘I switched in 2014 from Npower to Eon. The process was difficult, and I had to submit meter readings on 4 occasions before the switch went through. Npower was a nightmare – up until the end of July I was still receiving estimated bills.’

We need a fix

In 2015 our research found that household energy bills should be reduced to reflect the lower wholesale energy costs. And then again, last week we saw in the news that wholesale gas and electricity had fallen by nearly a third in a year, yet energy companies have failed to lower bills in response. So far we’ve only seen British Gas cut prices in the last six months, but this was just 5%.

As Sean from Aberdeen put it:

‘Consumers consistently pay a ridiculous amount of money for gas and electricity, allowing energy suppliers to make record breaking profits, yet when there are reductions in the cost of energy production suppliers never pass savings on to consumers.’

With the current cold weather, people paying over the odds for their energy on top of poor customer satisfaction in the Big Six suppliers, we need to fix the broken energy market. If the Competition and Market Authority’s energy market inquiry is to be a success it has to set out proposals that will address the appalling levels of customer service, switching and value for money.

It’s time for these energy companies to up their game and provide the service their customers deserve. If you agree that with us then back our campaign today.


So over to you, what have your experiences been like with your energy supplier?

Comments

My feelng is to keep my existing conventional meters and send in monthly meter readings until there is some genuine advantage to me in having a smart meter. For example the option to use 1 hour tariffs or to have selective load shedding in case of a capacity problem – this would help those dependent, medically say, upon an uninterrupted mains supply .

It’s wise for anyone dependent on electrical equipment to have a backup supply for equipment and emergency lighting. Oxygen concentrators and air pumps use little power.

Oxygen concentrators don’t have back-up batteries in my experience, so cylinders are necessary. Bipap machines are essential to many and have back-up batteries that will last 2 hours. So we need to think about ensuring such appliances are not prevented from working by loss of supply. Smart meters are one way of supplying electricity to essential users when choices have to be made.

Any mains-operated equipment can be connected to an uninterruptible power supply (UPS), which consists of an automatically charged battery linked to an inverter to produce mains power. I have a small one to power my desktop computer to prevent possible damage if the mains fails. I knew a chap who made his own setup powered by a large battery.

If smart meters were used to turn off mains power for any reason other than a national emergency there could be riots in the streets. The possibility of remote switching off of power is one of the concerns about smart meters.

The number of people with medical needs is relatively small and UPS is a perfectly adequate solution.

I must say I think a UPS is quite useful. I had one installed in our hall cupboard where the consumer unit is situated to provide light if it is necessary to reset a breaker on the lighting circuit or if there is a general power failure. The light can also be switched on at any time to illuminate the dark cupboard.

We must think about the vulnerable, not just ourselves. Most people will not have UPS’s. There will not be “riots in the streets”; if there is a major fault on the system but the supplies to a small minority of customers at risk can be maintained by smart meters the vast majority will see that as a worthwhile application of technology. Many more people than you think will have mains medical equipment and would much prefer to have supply maintained than, for example, to have to retrieve large, heavy oxygen cylinders from storage – if it happens while they are awake of course.

Perhaps w you would give a reference to the claim about “remote switching concerns” from people who have been properly informed?

“The number of people with medical needs is relatively small”. Really? As just one example their are 1.2 million people with COPD – chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder – many of whom require home oxygen treatment, most effectively supplied by a mains-powered electrical oxygen concentrator. Many of these may also requires breathing help from a Bipap – again electrically powered – to both relieve their breathing muscles and to remove excess CO2.

That doesn’t seem like a “relatively small” number to me. Let alone all those with other medical conditions.

Perhaps we should be thinking about more positive ways to help these people and less about the inconvenience we might have to put put up with for a few hours at most? If there is a way smart meters can help, we should be supporting it, in my view, not suggesting these people have to go out to buy and install UPSs to protect their health

Where we live power cuts are not – sadly – uncommon. We have two UIPS systems to cope with this, but on one occasion we were off for four days.

Recently, however, spikes have become a more worrying problem; in fact, it was the spikes that wrecked a couple of HDs and prompted me to get a second UIPS. This is, of course, down to the distributors and not the Power company itself, which is OVO, and tends to be pretty good.

What’s important is to log spikes and cuts, so you have a record when asking the distributor for compensation. They paid for new HDs for me because I’d done that.

(I’m sure I’ve posted about this before, but it doesn’t seem to be in this topic )

I do think about the vulnerable, Malcolm. They have been mentioned in many of my posts, particularly those relating to energy prices. A substantial proportion of the population have some sort of disability and we cater for their needs. What I have suggested is not complicated.

What I said was: “The possibility of remote switching off of power is one of the concerns about smart meters”, and this is well documented.

Many people who rely on medical devices will be disabled, lacking in financial means, and not able to afford a UPS for each device. It is most unlikely any would be able to make one for themselves, like your chap. Nor should we have to burden the NHS with yet more equipment to purchase and service when it should be unnecessary. Those who have “concerns about remote switching” would, I expect, if told that a benefit would be in protecting vulnerable people with severe medical problems, be in favour.

We must think more about the vulnerable referred to your “rioters in the streets”, a claim I doubt is justified. A worthy cause needs our support.

Malcolm – We do already support people with a wide range of disabilities. Walking frames, wheelchairs and Motability cars, bathing aids, etc, etc. In my view it is better to make sure that those with disabilities – which may change – are catered for rather than imposing control of the mains supply for everyone else.

If there is a major, but not complete, power shortage it makes sense to allocate power to those who are essential users, when the rest of us can hang on with a little inconvenience until power is restored. If you are looking after someone who is dependent upon an electrical supply for their medical condition, 24 hours a day, I think you would appreciate a pragmatic solution rather than issuing all such people with yet more expensive equipment that would rarely be used, at great and unnecessary expense to the rest of us. For some, hospitals must issue duplicate equipment “just in case” the batteries do not last as long a s a power failure. When a simple no-cost alternative will exist, that can stop.

I’m curious: how would smart meters maintain supplies when the poles are blown down?

Those relying on oxygen concentrators and other breathing aids will rarely find that their “needs may change”. Walking frames and the other examples do not rely upon your energy supplier, to the best of my knowledge, and have no relevance to this particular point.

These disabled people have enough to put up with compared the the rest of the population, and do not need unhelpful obstacles put in the way of their care just for our own convenience. I can live without the tv, cooker and such like for an hour or two if it helps someone who is dependent upon electricity deal with their disability. Perhaps those who feel they can’t should be the ones to invest in standby power supplies.

They cannot, of course. What they can guard against is excessive demand on an overloaded system which might benefit from load shedding. When poles are blown down, or a substation or line transformer fails, power can be rerouted but full demand, I presume, might not be catered for.

By coincidence I have just received an email from UK Power Networks about their priority service to those needing support during a power cut, for example:
• Customers who rely on medical equipment
• Customers who are chronically ill
• Customers with a disability
• Customers who have dementia
• Customers who are blind or partially sighted
I hope we support this approach as well and do not seek to prevent those in need being given special treatment, even if it inconveniences the rest of us.

Ian is right and living in a rural area has experience with power failures. Anyone dependent on mains power should already have contingency measures in place. Why put the rest of the public at danger (e.g. falling down unlit stairs) when there it is possible to look after the needs of the disabled.

We are off-topic and I suggest moving this discussion to The Lobby.

So UPSs are not off topic, but protecting a power supply to the vulnerable is? If moderators want to move a topic then that is up to them, but it is not a good way for a Convo commenter to try to shut down a discussion. The topic in this Convo is about energy, and maintaining the supply to vulnerable people seems very relevant, particularly to those in an unfortunate medical situation..

I made the suggestion of moving to The Lobby because this Conversation invites us to comment on our energy suppliers. You have made suggestions that discussions have been moved too.

I think it would be interesting to have more detailed discussion about helping those with medical problems and the possibility of temporarily interrupting electricity supplies for other customers.

A dedicated Convo rather than the Lobby would be more appropriate. if we do that. The Lobby is not, in my view, for a serious topic of this nature. In the absence of such a Convo, as with other topics, discussion should continue particularly when the facts are not clear. This, I would suggest, is a matter for Which?

That may be your view, Malcolm, but the Lobby’s function is, in part, to act as an incubator for the very sort of topic you deem ‘serious’. Anything can be discussed there, and if there’s sufficient interest, a new topic will spring up to accommodate the need.

That is my view Ian, as you say, and a conversation is a place to express my view, and for others to express theirs. I deem looking after the interests of those dependent upon electricity as “serious”. The Lobby is largely populated by relatively trivial and fun items – nothing wrong with that but I don’t see it as appropriate to lose a serious Convo topic in it.

If you look back, this Convo drifted from suppliers into meters, and a comment was made about selective switching leading to riots. It deserved a response when so many people are medically dependent on a supply being maintained.

However, thanks for your view..

Well, if conversations drift – as they’re bound to – and someone wants to continue a ‘serious’ debate elsewhere, the Lobby would seem to be ideally suited. After all, where else can they go? The Lobby’s tone might be light hearted but that doesn’t mean it can’t be both serious and irreverent. And I suspect Wave’s aside was just that; a metaphorical allusion, although it has to be said that less important issues than blackouts have provoked riots in the past.

I doubt that helping disabled and vulnerable people would provoke a riot in a civilised society. I think people are free to choose where they continue a conversation until the moderators advise.

This particular part of the energy debate might be of interest to those with worries about their energy supply to essential equipment when a power shortage occurs, and know it is worth contacting UK Power Networks who can offer guidance, including priority updates on the restoration of their supply..

What I said was: “If smart meters were used to turn off mains power for any reason other than a national emergency there could be riots in the streets. The possibility of remote switching off of power is one of the concerns about smart meters.” It is a figure of speech intended to convey that there would be considerable opposition. Unfortunately you have twisted what I said.

wavechange, I have repeated what you said. If you meant otherwise, please say.

I don’t think we should go round this argument again, so I will conclude by giving my view. If we have a temporary power shortage then, if a means exists to supply vulnerable people preferentially, particularly those who rely on essential medical devices, then I think this would receive popular support. If smart meters could be used in such a situation then it would be a worthwhile use for them. Emergencies are more than just “national”; for someone whose health and life are at risk the term “emergency” would apply to them.

I’m happy to discuss this in a relevant Conversation. I have knowledge of respiratory conditions requiring medical equipment and having lived off-grid for between one and two years of my adult life I can contribute to discussion of coping without power.

I’m more than a bit disturbed to note the spin that’s being put on things in this topic. I’ve gone through the entire exchange and have not found one single instance where anyone said or implied “that helping disabled and vulnerable people would provoke a riot in a civilised society”. For me, that goes beyond having a fetish where money is concerned; that’s tantamount to libel.

Now, when you say This particular part of the energy debate might be of interest to those with worries about their energy supply to essential equipment when a power shortage occurs, and know it is worth contacting UK Power Networks who can offer guidance, including priority updates on the restoration of their supply.., Malcolm, how would that help me? I received an email from them, but according to their website and OFGEN they only cover the SE and London.

https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/electricity/distribution-networks/network-innovation/low-carbon-networks-fund/second-tier-projects/uk-power-networks

“If smart meters were used to turn off mains power for any reason other than a national emergency there could be riots in the streets.”. I replied “if there is a major fault on the system but the supplies to a small minority of customers at risk can be maintained by smart meters the vast majority will see that as a worthwhile application of technology”.

One tactic I do not deliberately indulge in is “spin” and certainly not “libel” .I have put forward a reasoned argument why smart meters might have an application to help these vulnerable people. Please do not try to make an argument where none exists. If you do have a problem with something I post, please report it in the normal way.

To avoid misunderstanding, could you explain just what you mean by “For me, that goes beyond having a fetish where money is concerned; that’s tantamount to libel.”

Perhaps you might contact your local network operator then Ian.

Do you think the NHS should supply all equipment users with portable generators (these presumably require action to start them, assuming the medical equipment user is awake).

May I remind you that this started as a proposition for the possible use of smart meters to help those on electric medical devices in the event of a power shortage.

Well, you did say when a power shortage occurs, and know it is worth contacting UK Power Networks who can offer guidance, including priority updates on the restoration of their supply., but clearly I can’t. And, if their site is accurate, neither can most in the UK.

When you say One tactic I do not deliberately indulge in is “spin” and certainly not “libel” how do you describe this:

I doubt that helping disabled and vulnerable people would provoke a riot in a civilised society?

To me, that clearly implies that you’re attributing a statement that was only made by you to someone else. You’ve directly linked cause and effect in a way that no one else has.

On to the next points:

Do you think the NHS should supply all equipment users with portable generators (these presumably require action to start them, assuming the medical equipment user is awake).

That’s what they do here. Economies of scale seem to make it work quite well, and it’s clearly a far more reliable system than arbitrary cut-off. In the mountains storms can wreak havoc with supplies, so gennies are essential.

May I remind you that this started as a proposition for the possible use of smart meters to help those on electric medical devices in the event of a power shortage.

Well, that’s not evident to me. It seems to have started more than a year ago with the first post by you complaining that the topic header was imprecise:

Which?, I think your campaign needs to be supported by more information. You need to put in some groundwork. Or work with Ofgem to set down some benchmark figures.

Someone earlier today mentioned helping the vulnerable, but that’s not how ‘this’, in the sense of the topic, started.

The issue raised by Wavechange – and I hope I am interpreting him correctly – is that there are concerns over how, when and on whose authority the electricity suppliers can switch out [or leave switched in] individual consumers’ power supplies via their smart meters. This does raise public interest concerns, and possibly even questions over civil rights. With hindsight we might say that Wavechange was perhaps using hyperbole in referring to the potential for “riots in the streets”; I assumed he was concerned about the absence of proper protocols for interfering with people’s power supplies [for example, for load shedding], other than when an emergency knocks out the power supply [weather, terrorist act, vandalism, accident, transmission line breakdown, transformer malfunction, etc]. I don’t think it was an improper suggestion at the time and the whole context has been somewhat distorted as the Conversation has developed. I think this aspect of power supply management and its regulation does need to be considered because it is a new possibility and could be open to abuse.

This Conversation is about satisfaction with the energy suppliers. There is a directly related set of companies between the electricity suppliers and the generators and it does not seem inappropriate to me to discuss their roles and powers within this Conversation rather than elsewhere. So far as I can recall this has not been raised in any previous Conversations.

Malcolm suggested that smart meters might actually be used to maintain continuity of supply to vulnerable users in the event of a non-emergency intervention in power supply. As has been made clear, in many circumstances a supply failure is unavoidable and will cause an area-wide power cut; sometimes, mainly in built-up areas, alternative routing of power supplies to consumers is possible but perhaps not without some reduction in capacity and the question of priority can arise. I do not know for certain which part of the supply chain has control of the ability to use smart meters in the way Malcolm has outlined but I put forward a suggestion on that below. In principle, Malcolm’s proposal seems to me to have merit but I think a strict protocol needs to be devised before any attempt is made to use this facility.

The National Grid controls the overall high-voltage electricity network that connects the generating and intake stations to the regional distribution centres. National Grid can control the flow of power by switching in or out the major feeder and transformer stations and they can also divert supplies in the event of a problem with a particular area. They do not need access to individual consumers’ meters.

Next in the chain are the distribution network operators [regional distributors] who control the lower-voltage network via feeders and substations and from there to individual premises. They can also switch in or switch out substations if necessary because of an incident or emergency. UK Power Networks is one of these companies and there are a few other companies who undertake the same function in other regions.

Until now, power cuts have been indiscriminate in their effects and knock out whole areas. No attempt has been made to manage supply and demand through non-emergency interventions. The distribution companies generally need to know how many consumers in each area are especially vulnerable not so that they can prevent a power cut but so that they can prioritise diversion or restoration of supplies. The information might also help them to decide where additional resilience should be installed, however.

The consumer’s chosen energy provider can interrogate smart meters for the purpose of billing and consumption monitoring but so far as I am aware does not have the ability to command a smart meter to close or open the supply. Perhaps they will in due course, possibly for commercial purposes [payment default], although I hope not.

So it seems to me that the only organisations that could use smart meters are the distribution network operators and they are, presumably, provided with the meter numbers and codes for accessing each supply point. I also assume that when a customer’s energy company is given details of a vulnerable user that information is forwarded to the relevant distribution network operator; I cannot see how the customer’s energy provider can use it in any useful way although I perceive it is being used as a marketing embellishment to project a more sympathetic image.

Consumers do not have any direct relationship with the distribution network operators so I feel that any proposal to enable them to control any individual customer’s supply, even with the best of intentions, should be treated with extreme caution. We live within the East England region and are covered by UK Power Networks and, apart from a recent circular enclosing a label to stick on the consumer unit showing emergency telephone numbers, there has been no previous contact from the company. Despite the company’s name, it is wholly owned by Chinese interests. In stating that I am not suggesting in any way that even more caution is required.

John, it would not be the energy supplier who made the choice, but the distribution company I expect. Just as now; they register vulnerable people so in the event of a power problem they have a good idea who to prioritise if such is achievable.

It is a shame that what was a straghtforward Convo, where views and opinions are interchanged, has been twisted into something of a personal attack, and I am not going along with that. It is not what I contribute to Convos for and not, I believe, in the spirit of a Convo.

Yes I am sure it would have to be the distribution company, Malcolm, but I think there needs to be a protocol to ensure that any switching in or out of supplies by means of the smart meter is authorised, justified, fair and accountable. I think Ofgem would have to have a say in the matter. I can foresee disputes arising over whether a consumer’s power should have been restored earlier than happened.

I agree with your second paragraph. I was dismayed at the turn this took, no doubt due to a misapprehension.

Things appear to have gotten quite heated here.

While you may not always agree with each other when debating an issue, please can you remember to keep things civil and to not let things get personal.

This can be very off-putting for anyone new to the conversation who may have a very valid point to contribute to the discussion.

At present you can register with your electricity distribution network provider if you have a particular need for priority services – such as reliance on medical devices, dementia, blindness etc. The services currently offered are limited, but include tailored support if needed such as home visits, hot meals, advice and keeping your friends and relatives updated.

Power failures are often local and vulnerable people can, I presume, be helped with restoration first if it is possible.

Power failure may not be total, but the system may be stretched beyond its capacity and load shedding becomes necessary; if smart meters give the ability to select vulnerable people to be kept supplied, that must be good.

Registration, as you suggest, needs to be properly done to avoid abuse and maybe would need a medical authorisation, as happens with blue badges.

I agree. There has been discussion about assistance for those with a vital dependency on medical apparatus, and while it appears that the medical services and caring organisations are experienced in ensuring there is an independent back-up support system – indeed, if necessary patients could be transferred to another area where power supplies were not affected – not so much attention has been given to those in a less critical category who would be seriously affected if a power outage went on for more than a few hours. Without light, and also without heat if pumps cannot run and controls will not work, an ability to use smart meters to selectively resupply or maintain supply during a controlled load-shedding operation would be worth exploring.

Ian – Off-topic, but maybe not. As you point out, UPS can protect equipment against damage by mains spikes as well as maintaining continuity of supply. It’s another reason for using them with medical equipment, though hopefully this has better inbuilt protection than most consumer products.

There’s a chap close to us – around three miles away – who needs regular dialysis and they’ve also supplied a small generator for emergences. The gennie is actually incredibly cheap – around £150 – and steps in in the event of a power cut. It powers a battery which operates the equipment through an inverter. A very cost-effective solution and certainly when compared with the cost pf his dialysis system.