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Complaints to energy companies reach record high

ENERGY companies were the target of more customer complaints last month than ever before, shocking new figures reveal this week.

Experts say the major suppliers are in “meltdown” with staff unable to deliver basic customer service.

Disgruntled households lodged 5,193 complaints in July compared to 4,178 the previous month - 24 a per cent rise.

It is almost three times more than the same time last year when 1,844 complaints were made in July 2013, according to the Energy Ombudsman.

It is the fourth month in a row complaints have rocketed with customers citing billing problems, customer service, and difficulties changing tariff or switching supplier as common gripes.

Despite the rise, Ombudsman Services: Energy said the figures only reflect complaints which were acted on with “many thousands more calls” received.

Chief energy ombudsman Lewis Shand Smith said: “It’s great that people are feeling more empowered when it comes to taking action against poor service.

“However, we would like to encourage people to remember that they must first take their complaint directly to their supplier. 

“In the event that the dispute remains unresolved for eight weeks or more then they can refer their case to us and we will investigate both sides of the argument and provide an impartial solution.”

Billing-related issues topped the list of grievances totalling 86 per cent (4,505) of all complaints made in July, 25 per cent up on June’s figures.

Problems relating to transfer issues - switching supplier or changing tariff - came second accounting for almost 10 per cent (518) of all complaints.

Ombudsman services said “post-recession cynicism and austerity” means customers  are “less likely to put up with shoddy service”.

It said 32 per cent of people are more likely to complain about poor service compared to a year ago.

The figures show in that in January last year just 1,119 complaints were made to the ombudsman.

Mark Todd, director of energyhelpline, said major system upgrades being made by suppliers has led to a “customer service meltdown”.

He said: “It is very alarming to see complaints treble since last year.

“We are seeing a lot of problems with suppliers changing their systems,  the staff are unable to do their jobs as a result, this is leading to huge delays.

“There are some really big IT problems at a number of the big suppliers which is a cause of customer service meltdown.

“SSE and EDF Energy seem to be the only ones which have managed to retain good customer service, the others are struggling.”

A spokesman for industry body Energy UK said: "”The energy industry works hard to provide the best service for its customers but in an industry serving 27 million households sometimes things go wrong. However, no one wants to see complaints rise and each complaint is taken very seriously.

“Companies work hard and invest in resources and new systems to resolve issues as quickly as possible.

“Most complaints are dealt with by the end of the next working day with no more than a phone call.”