New options for consumer representation in U.K. energy sector


London, U.K. — (METERING.COM) — October 1, 2008 – U.K. energy consumers who have complaints against their energy supplier have available a new package of support and protection measures from today.

Chief among these is a new national consumer council, Consumer Focus, which brings together the former gas and electricity watchdog, energywatch, as well as Postwatch and the National Consumer Council (including the Welsh and Scottish Consumer Councils) into a single statutory body that will campaign for a fair deal for consumers.

Consumer Focus will give advice and information on energy issues for both domestic and business consumers, and will assist in making an effective complaint to an energy company. The body will have a duty to investigate complaints about actual or threatened disconnections, and power to investigate complaints from vulnerable consumers only. Where policy issues of wider concern are identified, these will be raised with the regulator or government as appropriate.

Consumer Focus has announced that its number one priority is to tackle fuel poverty, taking forward and building on energywatch’s campaigns. Plans include pushing government to ensure better protection for the poorest and most vulnerable consumers, calling for social tariffs across the industry that genuinely match the best deal, and pushing Ofgem to address the disparity in prepayment tariffs over standard tariffs.

Consumer Focus also will provide pricing information to enable comparison of prices from the different energy suppliers.

Consumers are advised in the first instance to contact their supplier. Under the new arrangements, new complaint handling standards have been introduced for suppliers, with the aim of providing an improved level of service to consumers. For example, suppliers may no longer insist that complaints are put in writing before being considered, and they will be required to publish information on the number of complaints they receive. Companies will be audited on their complaint handling and compliance with the new standards, with the prospect of a fine of up to 10 percent of their turnover if they fail to meet the standards.

In the event of a complaint being unresolved by a supplier, or the time limit has expired, the consumer can move to seek redress through the energy ombudsman. To this end Ofgem has appointed the current Ombudsman Service Ltd as the new independent ombudsman, with its scope extended to all energy suppliers and network companies. The energy ombudsman has the power to award consumers up to £5,000 in compensation.