Complaints to energy companies research report 2016

Publication date
22nd September 2016
Information types
Policy areas

Every two years we commission independent research to see how satisfied energy consumers are with how suppliers handled their complaints. This report produced by Quadrangle is the fifth survey we’ve undertaken.

This survey is conducted within the context of falling complaints numbers. Data on complaints to individual suppliers shows that the volume of complaints is down significantly since 2014.

Key findings

Our survey of the six largest suppliers (British Gas, EDF, E.ON, npower, Scottish Power, SSE) and three largest medium-sized suppliers (First Utility, OVO and Utility Warehouse) shows that those who are complaining are receiving, on average, a worse experience from their supplier.

Since the 2014 survey, overall satisfaction (those saying they were either very or quite satisfied) with how a complaint has been handled had fallen significantly for both domestic and micro-business complainants (down 3% and 15% respectively). Furthermore, the strength of negative feeling has intensified with those reporting they are very dissatisfied up 7% and 11% respectively for domestic and micro-business complainants.

Supplier performance

Looking at the survey results for individual suppliers, it is clear what is driving this fall in overall satisfaction:

  • Domestic complainants stating they were very dissatisfied with how their complaint was handled increased significantly for npower (from 43% to 67%), Scottish Power (from 50% to 64%) and the medium-sized suppliers (from 48% to 59%) since 2014.
  • For the first time we have split out results for the medium-sized suppliers and this shows that First Utility performed worst with 63% of their domestic complainants reporting they are very dissatisfied, compared to 53% and 49% for Utility Warehouse and OVO respectively.
  • SSE continues to have highest levels of satisfaction out of those surveyed, but their results and those of British Gas, E.ON and EDF stayed broadly the same as they were in 2014.

The results show that there have been some areas of improvement. It is positive to see that 77% of domestic complainants said that it was easy to find the right contact details to make a complaint, up from 65% in 2014. The report also indicates that more complainants surveyed thought that: suppliers’ staff were professional; they did not use jargon; and they informed them of the steps that will be taken to resolve their complaint.

However, following this initial contact, the results also show that suppliers still need to make improvements throughout the complaints journey, including by:

  • providing the complainant with a named  contact and complaint reference number
  • informing them how long each step of the resolution process will take and providing an estimated resolution date
  • keeping the consumer informed as to the progress of the complaint and following-up at the agreed times so complainants do not have to chase repeatedly
  • having the complete history of the complaint to prevent consumers needing to repeat themselves
  • being able to make more decisions “there and then” when the consumer is on the phone and generally speeding up resolution timescales
  • signposting to independent advice and providing information on alternative resolution routes (ie the Ombudsman Services: Energy)
  • being clear with consumers on the status of their complaint – the resolution gap (suppliers’ and consumers’ views over the status of complaints being at odds) narrowed slightly but continues to contribute to higher levels of dissatisfaction with complaints handling).

The report finds that, as a result of their experience, 52% of domestic and micro-business complainants overall were either planning, in the process or had switched as a result of their experience. This represents an increase since 2014.

Suppliers who had the highest proportion of complainants surveyed reporting they were dissatisfied also had the largest proportion of complainants either having switched or planning to. 71% of npower’s domestic complainants surveyed and 59% of Scottish Power’s said that they had or were planning to switch as a result of their experience, as did 63% of medium sized suppliers’ complainants. In contrast, the supplier with the most satisfied complainants surveyed – SSE – faced the smallest loss of customers.

Next steps

Ofgem chief executive, Dermot Nolan, has written to all the chief executives of the suppliers surveyed to make clear that their results are unacceptable and to ask them to respond publically setting how they have made, and intend to make, improvements.

In addition, he has asked First Utility and Utility Warehouse, who performed next worst in the survey after npower and Scottish Power (in terms of complainants reporting they were very dissatisfied), to arrange for an independent audit of their complaint handling procedures and to make the results available to Ofgem for publication.

Due in part to failures in complaint handling, npower had to pay out £26m in December last year and Scottish Power had to pay out £18m in April this year. Given the survey sample was taken before the end of the enforcement cases against these companies we are not, at this time, asking them to undertake further action beyond what we have previously agreed.

You can view the report in full, alongside the open letters we have issued and responses from suppliers below.