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Npower fined – do energy companies really give a damn?

We all get things wrong sometimes – it’s how well we clear the mess up that shows whether we really give a damn. Some companies handle complaints well, but why do big energy companies find it so difficult?

John Lewis operates a system called the “heroic save” and they pretty much killed me with kindness a couple of weeks ago.

After failing to deliver a set of kitchen furniture on the agreed day, I got my furniture a week later and a fistful of John Lewis vouchers to spend. That should erase the frustration I felt wasting a day waiting for a delivery.

Compare that with the way big energy companies respond to unhappy customers. No sign of a “heroic save” here – more of an “inglorious failure”.

Customers services aren’t fine

In the last six months two of the UK’s biggest energy companies have been investigated for poor complaints handling. Ofgem announced its intention to fine British Gas £2.5m in July, and Npower was fined £2m this week. Ofgem said that Npower hadn’t recorded all details of the complaints it received and didn’t give customers enough details of the redress service offered by the Energy Ombudsman either.

This second point is crucial, because we know that the vast majority of customers who do take complaints to the energy ombudsman have those complaints upheld, with seven in ten of those getting financial compensation (the average compensation is £140).

I wasn’t hugely surprised to hear that the regulator is also currently investigating the way EDF Energy has been handling complaints. My own recent customer experiences with EDF have been universally poor.

EDF = Every Day another Failure?

A couple of weeks ago it sent me a letter telling me that my bill was going up. Helpfully, it didn’t tell me how much my bill was actually going up by, nor how much I was currently paying. Only when I rang to complain did I get the information I needed.

A few days later, EDF wrote again to tell me that my account was being “upgraded”. What did that mean? Well, to help me do my bit for the environment, EDF wouldn’t be sending me paper bills any more. A nice saving on postage for EDF, but how is that an upgrade? It took another phone call to get them to agree to carry on sending me paper bills.

Conclusion: could do better

At Which? we want to see all energy companies providing clearer information about how customers can complain – to the company and the Energy Ombudsman – printing this information on bills would be a simple step forward.

And how about energy companies coming clean about how many complaints they receive? We’ve finally got a system for this in the personal finance industry – let’s see the energy companies following suit.

Have you ever complained to an energy company? How did they handle your complaint, and do you think they could have done better?


No the companies do not give a damn, all a fine does is increase the cost to the consumer.

What should actually happen is OfGem or whatever should impose a reduction in the tariffs they can charge as that will directly affect their income and prevent them passing the cost onto the consumer.

In that way the fine will hurt them. Which is what a fine is supposed to do!

David Ramsay,
You are of course dead right.
These energy suppliers give terrible service and get fined, but as their only source of income is their customers who ends up paying the fine? The very people who were wronged in the first place of course.
And where does the money go?
Straight to the treasury. So, bad service ends up a tax on the consumer.

The fine should either be in the form of a forced consumer rebate, or levied on the managers responsible personally.
The current system is effectively a stealth tax on the victim. Hardly fair if you ask me.

Thanks for reporting the goodwill you have received from John Lewis, Martin. It gives the rest of us some encouragement and demonstrates that some companies do care. It would be good to hear about readers’ successes with energy companies, either with our without involvement of the ombudsman.

Perhaps we should put some pressure on the energy companies to do better. I am fed-up that e.on have consistently increased my Direct Debit to ensure that I am always in credit. I have recently been told that my DD will increase by over 26% despite being £100 in credit, as I was last quarter. They use an 0845 number rather than a geographical number, and I gave up waiting to discuss these and other issues. I cannot send them an email because all that is offered is a web-based form, making it difficult to keep a copy of correspondence. All fairly trivial, but I pay the bill and I would like to teach them a few lessons. I have started by asking for an email address.

To be positive, a great deal of thought has gone into the online statements provided by e.on. Credit where it is due.

I completed a web-based form and asked e.on for an email address. That produced an automated response indicating that my query would be answered within five working days.

This was sent from HomeQueries@eonenergy.com, but I don’t know if this will accept incoming email. Guess there is only one way to find out.

Mikhail says:
2 November 2011

I can’t see transparency of prices in energy companies. According to the Watch Dog there are over 200 different tariffs, I’ve spend an hour trying to find a difference between 4 southern electric tariffs and I could not see any. Why can’t they just publish how much they charge per kWh day/night? Or it is not that simple?

Interesting the article should mention “John Lewis” and their “heroic save”. It suggests John Lewis handles complains well.
My experience with them this year didn’t go so well.
Faulty item bought from them.
Called customer services and got sent from pillar to post and back. Never returned calls, tried to fob me off by refering me to the manufacturer, and this went on for weeks waiting ages on a 0845 number every time I called.
I only got anywhere after reaching the “escalation team” and giving a final ulimatum of a small claim action.
They most certainly did not “killed me with kindness” and even though I won in the end through sheer persistence how many others with just as legitimate a claim lose out.
I won’t be buying anything from them again.

Ecotricity says:
4 November 2011

We really do give a damn!

We treat our customers how we’d like to be treated ourselves, and it shows (we’ve compiled a table to enable you to compare how much your energy company gives a damn): http://www.ecotricity.co.uk/for-your-home/great-service

Martyn – we’d be overjoyed to have you aboard 🙂

The present method of fining utility companies is ineffect a fine paid for by the customers. A better method would be to fine the board of directors individually for breaches of company conduct since they are responsible for company policy. A statutary amendment to the laws of liability should be made by parliament to enable this.

A Davies says:
11 November 2011

I had a disagreement with Eon today who wanted to increase my DD payments by 30% although my balance is currently zero. When I asked why this was necessary, I was informed that it was due to their price increase and the fact that I don’t have cavity wall insulation. I pointed out that their prices had not increased by 30% and that regardless of not having cavity wall insulation, my usage over the previous 12 months had actually reduced.

Unfortunately they were unable to reduce the payments and the Eon rep was very aggressive. I felt she had already been prepped to deal with VERY unhappy customers. After being with Eon for 15 years, I have now decided to switch to Npower. I’m sure they’ll have their own issues but I’ll feel better knowing that Eon will be losing a loyal customer!