Head of Consumer Insight and Behavioural Science
The past year has been an incredibly difficult time in the energy market which has brought about extreme changes for consumers. Record gas prices leading to multiple supplier failures and a wider cost of living crisis have made this a challenging time for many.
Ofgem’s top priority remains protecting consumers and we expect the industry to step up too. We engage with suppliers regularly to ensure they are meeting their obligations, including around customer service. We urge any customer struggling to pay their bill to contact their supplier to access the support that is available.
More than ever, it is important we understand consumers so we can better meet their needs. As well as our chief executive Jonathan Brearley regularly talking to energy consumers, we conduct regular surveys to measure and track their views and experiences.
We also conduct focus groups and interviews with consumers to explore issues in depth. This ensures our decision making, policy making and how we engage with consumers is informed by a deep understanding of their lived experiences.
One of our most important pieces of work is the regular survey Ofgem and Citizens Advice have carried out since 2018 to understand and track customer perceptions of the energy market.
This monitors satisfaction with the quality of service delivered by suppliers, helping us to track longer term trends.
Today, we are publishing the findings from our survey conducted in January this year.
We know that the wider context of the cost of living crisis, which the Queen’s Speech focused on earlier this week, is potentially impacting changes in views, behaviours and overall trends. As we gather more evidence, we plan to conduct further analysis to better understand what is driving some of these underlying trends and to use this to ultimately improve standards for consumers.
Our research found that in January 70% of consumers remain satisfied with their energy supplier, though this is starting to show signs of decline, and is down from 76% last year. This is likely driven by declines in two key dimensions of consumer experience – perceptions of customer service and perceptions around billing.
Although 68% of consumers are satisfied with the customer service from their supplier, this is down from 73% the previous year. This is being driven by consumers increasingly finding it difficult to contact their supplier plus increased dissatisfaction with complaint handling and longer wait times.
The gas crisis is possibly driving this, with more consumers contacting their suppliers about higher bills and other more complex queries.
Billing satisfaction levels continue to remain high, with around 72% saying they are satisfied with the ease of understanding their bill and 71% with the accuracy of their bill. However, dissatisfaction with billing accuracy increased in January, from 5% last year to 10%, with some consumers also finding bills too complex.
Rises in energy prices mean that consumers are likely to be paying more attention to their bills and some report not understanding what is causing increased costs and finding jargon confusing.
We expect customer service standards to be maintained and customer payments to be fair and accurate. Suppliers must have customer service systems and processes that are adequate and fit for purpose.
Last month we launched the first in a series of market compliance reviews to assess whether recent direct debit increases are justified.
Other reviews will follow shortly to assess other aspects of vulnerability, affordability and customer service and drive improvements across the market.
We are not prejudging the outcome of these reviews. These are complex decisions, and this is a time of extreme change in this market.
But, of course, we will not hesitate to act if we find companies are falling short of their obligations.
Ofgem is also looking at the much wider issue of suppliers being fit and proper, by introducing robust stress testing for suppliers to check their business plans are sound.
Affordability concerns are increasing. In January this year 41% of consumers reported that they are concerned they will struggle to pay their energy bills compared to 33% in October 2021.
Indications from early analysis of our survey carried out in March this year data suggests this figure has risen to 51%. Of those that have been in touch with their supplier for support with paying their bills, most are satisfied with the support they received.
We will be publishing results from our March survey in the summer alongside further analysis into how changes in the energy market are impacting consumers.
Ofgem will continue to seek to understand the needs and experiences of consumers under these tough market conditions, sharing insights as they emerge, and taking action where required.
Ofgem has a unique role as the regulator to make sure the market is fair for everyone, and listening to consumer views helps inform this crucial work, armed with the best information and insights possible.