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News : Energy Customers Kept Waiting on Helplines
Sept 21, 2014 -- Frustrated customers can be kept waiting for almost an hour to get through to energy firm helplines, it has emerged.
Power providers are generating so many complaints that their telephone lines and call centre staff simply cannot cope.
The biggest problem is associated with inaccurate bills and follow a decision by Npower and Scottish Power to put in new computer systems that have proved an utter failure.
The new billing systems have been introduced to allow the firms to cut costs and staff, however they have left hundreds of thousands of customers in the dark about what they owe.
The customer service failures are astonishing given the fact the energy providers have pushed up prices despite the fact that the wholesale figure they are paying for gas and electricity has fallen sharply this year.
The net result is that the average profit margin they are making per family has more than doubled in the past year to over £100.
Bizarrely, while the energy giants do not have enough staff to deal with billing complaints, phone lines that are dedicated to new customers are answered in a matter of seconds.
BBC researchers rang the customer service lines of the ‘big six’ energy firms – British Gas, SSE, Npower, Scottish Power, Eon, EDF – 14 times each to see how long they had to wait for someone to pick up.
The longest time a caller was kept on hold was with Scottish Power, where it took a staggering 53 minutes to be connected before the call was cut off.
On average, it took 34 minutes to be directed to one of the company’s agents, with the shortest time being 18 minutes.
When the researchers phoned the helpline for new customers, Scottish Power answered all calls within 90 seconds – and one was picked up within just 31 seconds.
The second longest waiting time was with Npower, which took an average of 13 minutes and 30 seconds to connect.
A similar study published by the consumer group Which? last Autumn also found that Scottish Power and Npower were particularly bad.
Scottish Power had the worst single example of keeping a customer on hold with a delay of some 46 minutes and 49 seconds. Its average delay was two seconds short of 19 minutes. Npower had the longest average delay of 19 minutes and 14 seconds.
Npower was warned by the energy industry regulator, Ofgem, earlier this year that it faces a multi-million pound fine unless it sorts out its billing system.
Thousands of customers were not sent bills for months, sometimes more than a year, despite making repeated requests to know how much they owed. The net result was that they were then hit with huge bills - running to more than £1,000 in some cases – with demands to pay up or face some kind of enforcement action.
There were also serious problems with direct debit payments. Many customers found they were paying too much each month, while others paid too little or nothing at all.
Exactly, this same pattern is now being seen by customers of Scottish Power after it turned on a new billing system.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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The British Broadcasting Corporation is a UK-based international public-service broadcaster headquartered at Broadcasting House in London.
Published: Wednesday, September 24, 2014