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A shocking number of complaints to the Big Six

Fix the Big Six campaign logo

We’ve just published the latest stats for complaints to the Big Six energy suppliers. And the figures show that they’re getting more of them than ever. If there was ever a time for change, it’s now.

The Big Six energy suppliers received a staggering 1.7 million complaints between January-March 2014. That’s a 15% increase over the same period in 2013. It’s also the highest number of complaints received in a single quarter since records began in 2012.

Npower tops the table, getting 83 complaints for every 1,000 customers, while Scottish Power received the lowest number, with only 13 complaints per 1,000. Complaints to both SSE and British Gas have doubled in the past six months, at about 30 per 1,000 customers.

In response to these latest stats, an Npower spokeswoman told us:

‘While we have seen issues with our billing system, which have affected some customers, we’re now beginning to make progress. We’re billing 95% of our customers on time and in the past three weeks we have reduced our total complaints by 32% as well as resolving 88% of complaints within 24 hours.’

The energy to complain

Energy supplier complaintsThe numbers don’t lie – energy companies are clearly letting down their customers with poor service. And this isn’t doing any good for the low levels of consumer trust in the market.

Our consumer insight tracker shows that only one in five people trust energy companies and it’s been at this low level for a while. If suppliers want to start improving this, they need to up their game now rather than waiting for the results of the proposed competition review.

Why do you think complaints are on the rise? Have you complained to an energy company recently? What was your experience? Did you end up going to the Ombudsman?


Anyone who has seen my comments on here or follows me on Twitter etc will know I love nothing more than a good complaint. But for me, I have not made a “formal” complaint about SSE at all the last 6 months.

I do still have problems like everyone else. But now, with the help of Twitter, problems can be fixed right away & you no longer need to follow the “formal complaints procedure”.

Like yesterday. I was not able to login to my SSE online account. I posted a screen shot of this to SSE’s twitter account at 8.37am and had a reply from SSE’s Jo at 8.45am, that’s only 8mins.

I then had a phone call right after from a nice lady called Rosemary, she then in turn got another lady (who I think was called Caroline) who was from the IT department on the same call and within 10mins we managed to get the problem fixed.

I know I could of gone down the formal route, but with Social Media these days they really is no need to & this can only be a good thing.


I would like to know what constitutes a ‘complaint’ and perhaps Kate could explain.

When I was with e.on I probably made two or three phone calls a year to ask for something to be done about my account having a substantial credit balance or being told that my direct debit payment would rise when this was obviously not necessary. I always received a prompt and positive response.

I guess my calls are classed as complaints but it would be interesting to differentiate simple problems such as I have described from more serious problems, for example a call that has to be transferred to a more senior member of staff or requires a follow-up in writing explaining the nature of the problem and what remedy the customer is seeking.

Perhaps someone having a tweet that their energy company is still using a costly phone number or they have been kept waiting too long when they have tried to make contact by phone is a complaint.

Anything from a minor whinge to a serious dispute could be classed as a complaint, so it would be useful to establish what the term means in practice.



You have just made me think differently & what you say is correct. As some of us, like me, are moving to Twitter and not making things “formal” via the phone ARE these classed as complaints and are they in the data?

I would guess and say no, but I might be wrong.


What might drive me to use Twitter is many companies’ insistence on using web forms instead of email and doing their best to hide their contact phone numbers.

I am guessing that a ‘complaint’ would have to be related to a specific account and I don’t know how practical that would be within the limited number of characters imposed by Twitter.


Hi wavechange,

The term complaint is really broad. It covers anything where the customer expresses dissatisfaction with the company and its services (the definition is in legislation). So all the examples you’ve given are classed as a complaint.

In the energy sector all complaints are recorded from the point they are made, while in banking they are only recorded after 24 hours. So in the banking sector it sounds like your complaint wouldn’t be classed as such if it was dealt with within 24 hours.

In dealing with complaints energy companies have an 8 week period in which to resolve it to both parties’ satisfaction, otherwise the customer can go to the energy ombudsman. The customer can also go to the ombudsman if the company’s processes have been completed earlier.


Thanks very much for your prompt reply Kate. It is not often I have sympathy for energy companies these days but I do over this issue. It would be a great help to include a brief explanation of what is meant by a complaint in future Conversations and in the magazine since it helps put things in perspective.


Ofgem – State of the Market 2013:
“Our survey evidence showed that in 2013, 43 per cent of customers did not trust energy suppliers to be open and transparent in their dealings with consumers, an increase of 4 percentage points from the previous year.”

Which? above:
“The numbers don’t lie”
“Our consumer insight tracker shows that only one in five people trust energy companies”.
It would be good if statistics could be agreed upon, Who is right? Damned statistics.

I personally wish Which? would stop using inflammatory headlines such as “shocking”, “staggering”, “rip-off”. I don’t need these descriptions to help me decide whether an issue is of great concern from what should be an objective assessment by Which?. I consider these words are best left to the red tops and the politicians – where they just become devalued. But I’m sure I don’t understand the crisis we all face.


Statistics are useful for analysing factual information such as the average energy consumption at different times of day or how it varies throughout the year. But ask people to provide their views or even remember facts and statistics soon become of questionable value. How a question is phrased, the context, what the previous question was and many other factors collectively debase the validity of a survey. That is ignoring any deliberate attempt to influence the information provided. Advertising and questionable statistics provide convenient and familiar examples when teaching the need for critical evaluation.

In the context of this Conversation it would be possible to analyse the nature of complaints and do a valid statistical analysis. That would be useful but probably extremely time consuming. It would ignore the fact that there are people who are dissatisfied but do not comment or complain, for whatever reason.

I hate attention-grabbing presentation too but assume that is used to attract broader input into what can often be useful debate. I presume that all the pathetic puns in Conversation titles is just house style and can cope with that. 🙂


Wavechange, I am aware of the use and misuse, and selective use, of statistics. It bothers me that two organisations, one whose official job it is to collect reliable data, differ by a factor of 2:1. My instinct is that the 1 in 5 who only trust the energy companies feels extreme and may be chosen to suit the argument. I would feel it was just as big an issue even if “only” 2 in 5 have trust. We must be careful to use data responsibly. I do not believe Which? would deliberately used incorrect data, so it would be useful if they explained how they derived it and how they differ from Ofgem.
This does not detract from the urgent need for energy companies to deal with their customers in a timely and efficient way.
Incidentally, if you want timely and efficiient you might consider many local authorities and government departments who pledge to reply to your e-mail “within 20 to 28 (working) days”.


I know you are well aware of such issues, Malcolm. It was just a general comment because I doubt that the problem is generally appreciated. I agree that we should explore discrepancies and I’m sure that Conversation introductions are written in a way that encourages readers to to explore the topic, find information and make an input.

I agree that we must use data responsibly, but wonder if either of the organisations involved have even presented us with valid data.

Comparing response time with that of other organisations is a worthwhile exercise and something that might lend itself to valid statistical analysis.


I’m not sure where Which? get their numbers and statistics from. They have 254 000 on-line members, so a very large base from which they could extract data. I don’t remember being asked a question about trust – maybe I’ve missed it, but I do fairly regularly get surveys from Which? to complete. Do they tap into all of these potential respondents?


Hello Malcolm, just to clarify. Actually Ofgem and us have quite similar data – we both track trust and distrust in energy companies. Ofgem’s data shows 29% trust and 43% don’t trust. Ours shows 21% trust and 47% distrust. The questions asked are phrased slightly differently, we ask whether people trust suppliers to ‘act in your best interests’, and Ofgem asks whether customers trust suppliers to be ‘open and transparent’ which probably accounts for the small difference.

Just to explain how our Consumer Insight Tracker works, we survey 2,000 UK adults who are representative of the whole population each month. We value the views of our members and we know that they are concerned about energy prices, but we also know that non-members are too, and we want our data to be relevant for the whole of the UK. You can explore our consumer insight tracker here: http://consumerinsight.which.co.uk/tracker

On ‘shocking’ being in the title. As Wavechange points out, it was a cheeky pun. I’m sorry that our puns turn you off (sorry, couldn’t resist), but we felt it also nicely reflected the fact that these are record complaints numbers.