Ofgem unveils stricter energy supplier standards: our take on the changes
Ofgem has today announced new customer services standards for energy suppliers. Here’s our response…
It’s good to see Ofgem’s implementation and strengthening of the rules to protect consumers in vulnerable circumstances such as making it easier to contact your supplier if you’re in debt or on a repayment plan. But it’s unclear whether the new standards will go far enough in practice.
Smoother processes to resolve problems
We hope the guidance for energy suppliers to ‘have processes to prioritise enquiries from representatives contacting them on behalf of domestic customers in vulnerable situations’ will translate into tangible improvements, facilitating smoother processes for our CSE energy advisors.
Currently, CSE’s advisors spend an absurd amount of time on hold when attempting to speak to energy companies in order to resolve problems for the people we support. Our advisors also experience difficulty in establishing that they have the customer’s consent. Because of this, they find themselves stuck in interminable customer service loops. We know this time could be better spent helping even more clients on our advice line or through face-to-face support.
Better support needed
Overall, we still need to see better support for non-English speakers and a stronger commitment to ‘defined opening times’. Something CSE highlighted when we responded to Ofgem’s consultation on this back in the summer.
In addition, other key issues and outcomes from our consultation response included:
Energy suppliers should be available via contact methods that meet customer needs.
- In our consultation response, CSE said suppliers should offer a range of methods including freephone and accessible email.
- Ofgem has not explicitly said freephone (unless having difficulty paying), nor included non-English speakers e.g. a translation service. CSE heard at a fuel poverty forum recently that the energy Ombudsman is about to launch an in-house translation service supporting 57 languages. If they can do it, so can suppliers.
Energy suppliers should be open at times that meet customer needs.
- CSE said 15 hours opening (7am-10pm).
- Ofgem has put it on the supplier to determine whether they are meeting this rather than enforcing it. This could mean some suppliers will fail to do so.
Energy suppliers should be contactable in a way that is free for customers who are struggling to pay their energy bills.
- CSE said freephone support is needed.
- Ofgem said suppliers should provide a free ‘enquiry’ service.
Whether or not we see substantial changes in supplier practices as a result of these new Ofgem standards remains to be seen. These changes take effect from 14 December and we’ll be watching closely to assess improvements.