The Citizens Advice Bureau has reported that Co-operative Energy attracted the highest number of customer complaints ever recorded in their quarterly ranking of best and worst energy suppliers. Co-op Energy clocked 1,584 complaints per 100,000 customers – forty times more than the next worst performer, SSE.
New Systems Nightmare
Problems began for Co-op Energy back in March, when they updated their operating systems. Customers were locked out of their accounts and administrative chaos ensued, particularly in the area of billing. Customers reported not receiving bills, and billing errors, with a record number of complaints being forwarded to the Energy Ombudsman, who warned that the supplier could be banned from recruiting new customers if they can’t fix their systems satisfactorily.
Ofgem were forced to intervene in 136 complaints from Co-op Energy for every 100,000 customers, considering 663 complaints in total for the period July to September. This was up from their previous figure of 60 complaints per 100,000 customers, or 254 complaints, in the April to June quarter. Given that the complaints that reach the ombudsman are only those that the company cannot resolve themselves, the actual number of complaints is likely to have been much higher.
Customers received an average of £73 in compensation for billing complaints, and £70 for switching errors.
A spokeswoman for Co-op Energy was keen to stress that the problems experienced in that quarter, whilst admittedly serious, were simply down to new systems teething problems. She pointed out that 93% of the complaints put to them via Ofgem have been resolved, with others underway adding, “Call response times have halved over the past six weeks and we have recruited and trained over 100 new customer service staff.” All energy companies have their fair share of complaints, and it is to be hoped that Co-op manage to solve their IT issues quickly.
Co-op is one of the new smaller energy groups competing with the Big Six energy suppliers. Many of these smaller suppliers have performed outstandingly well, which has seen a big peak in customer sign ups. Their systems have had to expand rapidly to meet the needs of a rapidly expanding customer base, and this has caused problems. Whilst new players in the market are welcome, let us hope that the experience Co-op has put its customers through will serve as a warning to others.
The Co-op Energy crisis should serve as a warning to customers too. It is all too easy to assume your bill is correct, but how often do you check it for accuracy?
The complaint figures show how many customers did, but how many simply missed the errors? Almost every energy supply company has billing error problems from time to time. Consumers are well advised to check their bills regularly. If you don’t know how to, or what you are looking for, ring your supplier’s customer service team and get them to talk you through it.
You could be in line for compensation if you find mistakes.