Consumer: We must fix ‘broken’ energy market

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Consumer satisfaction with the UK’s gas and electricity suppliers has hit an all time low. Aisha Iqbal reports.

A new low in customer satisfaction with gas and electricity suppliers has revealed “the failings of a broken energy market”, according to consumer group Which?.

The watchdog’s latest annual energy company survey found that the overall customer satisfaction score has dropped from 49 per cent last year to 41 per cent.

The score is one of the lowest recorded by Which? from all of its satisfaction surveys across a range of products and sectors.

The consumer group said the survey exposed a market “that is falling short of its customers’ needs” as satisfaction plummeted and the biggest companies fared worse than the smaller suppliers.

The six largest companies, which account for more than 90 per cent of the market, ranked bottom of the table, with Npower scoring the lowest for the third year running with 31 per cent.

British Gas scored 39 per cent, below SSE and Scottish Power on 41 per cent, EDF Energy (44 per cent) and E.On (45 per cent). British Gas and Npower both fell below the industry average of 41 per cent.

Good Energy held the top spot for the third year running, sharing it with Ecotricity, with both scoring 82 per cent.

All of the companies that appeared on the table last year scored lower, except for Ecotricity and First Utility who all had steep climbs.

Latest statistics from Which? show that energy prices are the top worry for nine in every 10 consumers, while just one in five trust suppliers to act in their best interests.

Some 60 per cent of consumers told Which? that they are already “dreading” the cost of their winter energy bill.

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: “Once again the biggest energy companies have been beaten by the smaller suppliers but there are no winners in a broken market that consistently fails consumers.

“Our findings highlight why it’s vital that Ofgem’s first annual review of competition clearly identifies why the market is failing and what needs to change. We want to see radical solutions to improve competition and keep prices in check, like the biggest energy companies being forced to separate wholesale generation from the retail arms of their business.”

Npower’s director of domestic retail business, Roger Hattam, said: “We know we’ve let many of our customers down following recent issues with our new billing system but it’s still disappointing to see these results. Right now, our priority is to put right these issues.

“While we still have a long way to go, we are making progress. Our customers deserve to get the best service possible and this is my commitment to them.”

An Energy UK spokesman said: “Major change is already under way in the energy industry and will ensure dealing well with customers is at the heart of what our members do.

“Companies put a very high value on the relationships they have with their customers and they are working hard to improve the service they provide. However, in any survey there will always be winners and losers.

“Examples of best practice set a bench mark for all companies to meet and, where issues are highlighted, serve as a wake-up call for everyone.”

The survey was published as Labour leader Ed Miliband pledged that consumer groups will be given a greater role in identifying and fixing “broken markets” under his party’s plans for a shake-up of the way competition across the business world is regulated.

The opposition leader said he would legislate to ensure Which? and Citizens Advice would be given a say in setting the agenda of the Competition and Markets Authority. He said Labour would be “the party of the consumer” and the plan for an annual competition audit of the economy would help ensure that areas where regulators were failing would be identified and tackled.

“Unless you bring the consumer into the heart of these things, we are not going to get the change we need, we are not going to shine the light on these broken markets,” he said.

Competition clampdown

Labour leader Ed Miliband has this week promised to make his party the ‘party of the consumer’.

His planned reforms to the Competition and Markets Authority would scrutinise competition across the board. The regulator would be working with organisations like Which?, the CAB and others to decide the areas where competition isn’t working, and what and where action is needed. The regulator would also be sending a report to Parliament.

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