New utility complaint handling standards in U.K.


Allan Asher,
Chief Executive,
London, U.K. — (METERING.COM) — April 11, 2008 – U.K. energy regulator Ofgem has set out proposals for new complaint handling standards for the nation’s domestic energy suppliers.

The objective of the new standards, according to Ofgem, is to provide effective protection for consumers and ensure that their complaints are dealt with in a speedy and comprehensive way, while at the same time ensuring that the incentives on suppliers to improve performance in the competitive market is not undermined by overly burdensome requirements.

Ofgem adopts as a common definition of a complaint, based on the BSI model: “Any expression of dissatisfaction made to an organisation, related to any one or more of its products, services or the manner in which it has dealt with any such expression of dissatisfaction, where a response is either provided by or on behalf of that organisation at the point at which contact is made or a response is explicitly or implicitly required or expected to be provided thereafter”.

The standards regulations cover the following key requirements:

  • Recording complaints upon receipt and subsequently
  • Having a complaint handling procedure
  • Signposting the complaint handling procedure
  • Signposting the redress scheme
  • Agreeing arrangements with the new national consumer advocacy body for handling vulnerable consumers and threatened or actual disconnections
  • Agreeing arrangements with Consumer Direct for referrals
  • Dealing with consumer complaints in an efficient and timely manner
  • Publishing information on complaints.

The new standards are a response to the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress (CEAR) Act, which will see the current energy consumer body, energywatch, replaced with a single point of contact for consumers for information and advice covering all markets (Consumer Direct), the extension of redress schemes potentially to cover all energy complaints, and a new consumer advocacy body (the new NCC), with effect from October 1, 2008.

energywatch has welcomed the standards but warns that they will not work without effective monitoring and auditing. “Although ten years overdue, Ofgem’s mandatory complaint handling standards are a necessary and positive step,” said Allan Asher, chief executive of energywatch. “Our data on the experience of customers of the big six suppliers proves that more regulation is needed to ensure companies take customer complaints seriously. Monitoring and auditing of the new standards is vital and will require a firm hand by Ofgem and the new organisation replacing energywatch in October this year.”