One of the UK’s leading consumer watchdogs has urged energy firms to improve the quality of their customer service to support struggling households ahead of the challenging winter months when record energy bills are expected to rise again.
Citizens Advice has revealed customer service has reached a new nadir, with many customers are suffering from rising call wait times, with many being unable to get hold of their supplier.
Its average customer service score has fallen to a record low grade (2.8 out of 5) with standards collapsing since the market crisis began last summer.
The lethal combination of soaring wholesale costs, the constraints of the price cap and insufficient hedging has led to 28 suppliers exiting the market since September, alongside the de-facto nationalisation of Bulb Energy – the country’s seventh biggest energy firm.
This has seen over two million customers being shifted from fallen firms to surviving suppliers, which has coincided with a severe drop in standards.
Citizens Advice has warned the decline is happening at a time when people need good customer service, with the coldest months of the year looming – when demand is at its peak.
Its data suggests companies are struggling cope with increased demand over the past year.
Between January and March 2022, the charity’s consumer service helpline saw more than 70,000 cases related to energy issues – a 63 per cent increase on the same period the previous year.
Meanwhile, the average time to wait on the phone to speak to an energy supplier is now around six and a half minutes (391 seconds), compared to just under four minutes (224 seconds) during the same period in the previous year.
Customers of one supplier face an average call waiting time of more than 16 minutes.
Even at the table’s summit, standards are spiralling down.
The highest score is now just 3.6 stars, compared to 3.85 in the previous quarter and 4.65 at the same time in the previous year.
Utilita Energy is languishing at the bottom of the table with 1.60 out of 5 – a whopping 0.5 percentage points below the next worst, Ovo Energy.
EDF Energy leads the rankings with 3.6, ahead of Outfox the Market (3.25) and administrator-run Bulb (3.2).
The charity is particularly worried about people on prepayment meters, who are at risk of having no gas or electricity if they can’t afford to top up and already pay a premium rate.
Dame Clare Moriarty, chief executive of Citizens Advice, urged Ofgem to take action if suppliers are breaching any rules with the poor standards of customer support.
She said: “At a time when customers need all the support they can get, it’s worrying to see service performance is the worst on record. This leaves people frustrated and in the dark at the end of the phone. For many families on low incomes, life will get even harder when the price cap goes up again in October, despite government support.”
“We recognise call centre staff are working incredibly hard to answer as many calls as possible, but energy companies must do better. This should include improving support services for people struggling the most. Ofgem should make sure suppliers are following the rules, and take action where needed.”
When approached for comment, an Ofgem spokesperson said: “We know there is some excellent service out there, but we want to make sure it’s consistent and it’s the norm across the board. We’re working hard to make sure this very complex and changing energy market is fair and works for everyone. We’ll be reporting back on our reviews very soon and won’t hesitate to take action where needed.”