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UK utilities are again under fire as research finds more customers paying bills with credit as energy prices increase, and the number of complaints against energy companies trebles in the first quarter of 2014.

Almost a fifth of UK adults have paid for gas, electricity or water with a loan or on a credit card – an increase of more than 300 per cent from August 2013, finds a survey by the UK’s Debt Advisory Centre.

The number rises to more than a quarter for those aged 25 to 34, finds the poll.

Meanwhile, the number of complaints against energy companies soared by 224 per cent in the first quarter of 2014 compared to the same period in 2013.

The Ombudsman for the energy sector received 10,638 complaints by March 2014 compared to 3,277 the previous year.

The majority of complaints related to billing – with 2,062 consumers reporting not receiving a bill – followed by quality of customer service.

Lewis Shand Smith, chief energy ombudsman, said: “Consumer frustration and dissatisfaction is something that we hear about every day, and we welcome any attempts by Ofgem to make the energy market fairer.

“With energy complaints trebling in the first quarter of this year and problems relating to billing the greatest concern, increased transparency is something that should be addressed.”

The latest figures come as industry regulator Ofgem said in March 2014 that it was referring the sector to the Competition and Markets Authority for a full-scale inquiry.

Energy companies responded last week with better deals for customers.

EDF Energy said it will give prepay customers the chance to fix their energy prices for the first time, while SSE has plans to freeze gas and electricity prices for its customers until 2016.

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