If energy supplier and boiler cover provider NPower does not deal with its complaints backlog and billing problems, it will have to stop all proactive telesales.
Ofgem told the energy giant that it must publish monthly progress reports on its moves to deal with complaints and improve billing systems from now until August, and must resolve all major billing problems by August 31st. If it fails to do so, it must stop all telesales to new customers until it meets these targets.
Furthermore, Ofgem’s Standards of Conducts (SoC) department is holding a parallel investigation into the poor standards of customer service faced by NPower energy users, and if the company is found to have broken regulations, it could face a financial penalty or be forced to compensate its customers. This is the first case that SoC has investigated, and will see investigators look into the behaviour of the company, the information it provides to its customers, its internal processes and its compliance with complaints handling requirements.
This is not the first time the energy regulator has had NPower in its targets; in December 2013, Ofgem intervened in NPower, which eventually saw NPower Chief Executive Officer Paul Massara apologise to all of the firm’s customers, commit to ensuring that nobody would be overcharged as a result of billing issues, and saw NPower pay £1 million to some of its most vulnerable customers.
Since the December investigation, NPower has dealt with a number of long-standing problems relating to its handling of new customers, resolved many of its oldest late billing cases, and tackled issues with direct debit payments.
NPower admitted that it was experiencing problems with its billing systems and agreed to a monthly monitoring scheme in December. Although Ofgem said it has made some progress since this time, it noted that it has not dealt with complaints and billing problems to the extent expected of it.
Senior Partner in Charge of Enforcement at Ofgem Sarah Harrison said that customers of NPower have had to deal with service problems for “too long”.
As a result, the energy regulator has secured “binding commitments” from the energy supplier to deal with its backlog of billing issues or to be penalised with a restriction on sales, she added, stating that Ofgem’s analysis of npower complaints data raised “serious concerns” that are to be “thoroughly examined”.
Ofgem is “increasingly concerned” with NPower’s slow progress in dealing with its failings, Ms Harrrison said, stating its recovery plan has not been as far-reaching or as fast as is required.
Energy expert at uSwitch.com Tom Lyon said that one of consumer’s biggest problems with the energy industry is billing errors. He pointed to recent research by uSwitch.com, which found that 19% of households have received incorrect bills from energy suppliers in the last year, while energy companies are taking longer and longer to deal with any complaints.
When people decide to switch energy supplier, customer service is an “increasingly important factor”, Mr Lyon said. He argued that energy customers don’t just want to get a better deal, but want to also “feel valued”.
In 2013, a total of 1.4 million complaints were made against NPower – the equivalent of one complaint for every four customers.
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