The Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) has today published its 2021 Customer Care Annual Report. The CRU provides a free dispute resolution service to customers who have an unresolved complaint against an energy supplier, network operator or Irish Water. The service also provides independent advice and information for customers about energy or water services, consumer rights, and supplier obligations.
2021 was a particularly challenging year for many customers due, to the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic and during the latter part of 2021, the global increases in energy costs.
The CRU monitors the number of complaints and contacts concerning energy suppliers and network operators and will take action if their performance continually falls below the required standards.
The share of customer contacts for each of the nine largest energy suppliers is broadly in line with their market share, with the exception of Electric Ireland and BGE. Contacts levels regarding Electric Ireland (19%) are notably lower than its respective market share (43%), while the level of contacts made regarding BGE (28%) is notably higher than its market share (21%). These figures are in line with 2020 figures. The gap between contact levels and market share decreased favourably between 2020 to 2021 for both SSE Airtricity and Energia.
Customer contacts related to billing and account issues, customer service levels, and metering problems these contacts can become complex complaints, which is defined as an issue that requires escalation to the CRU and a full investigation. In 2021, the CRU closed 186 complex complaints in energy, with 32% of these upheld in favour of the customer.
Case Study: One complaint that was upheld was in relation to misleading Information given to a customer on sign-up to a contact. The customer had a day-night meter and had queried the time frames applicable to ‘day’ and ‘night’ meter usage with the supplier’s customer care service to ensure they would be using energy at the cheaper night-time rate. The supplier customer care agent incorrectly advised the customer that night rate usage is recorded between 8 pm and 8 am when in fact the night rate is applied between 11 pm and 8 am. This led to unexpectedly higher bills for the customer.
The CRU upheld the customer’s complaint and awarded Charter Payments totaling €120 for various customer service issues including not registering the customer’s initial complaint, not taking the customer through the complaints process, incorrectly closing the complaint, not providing any update or investigation of the issue and not referring the customer to the CRU to escalate the complaint
The CCT received 374 customer contacts in relation to Irish Water in 2021, an increase of 56% from 2020. The CCT investigated and closed 18 complex complaints relating to Irish Water in 2021, 44% of which were upheld in favour of the customer.
Account problems and billing accounted for the majority of Irish Water complaints; primarily complaints from non-domestic customers who are receiving regular bills. Customer service issues accounted for 22% of complaints.
The CRU Domestic Customer Handbook places requirements on Irish Water in terms of the levels of customer service and customer protection measures Irish Water must implement, including how Irish Water must assist vulnerable customers. Irish Water’s Code of Practice in Customer Complaints details the guaranteed service standards customers should expect to receive when logging a complaint with Irish Water.
Commenting on the report, CRU Chairperson Aoife MacEvilly, said:
“The CRU offers a free and independent complaint resolution service to energy customers and customers of Irish Water Customers. There was a 51% increase in contacts to the CRU last year, which is likely to have been driven by increased awareness of our customer protection role as customers deal with the challenge of increased energy costs and see the impact on their bills. Billing and account issues continue to be the main driver of complaints. We would call on any customer with a complaint to raise this with their energy supplier or Irish Water, and if they are not satisfied with the outcome, contact the CRU Customer Care Team.”
Energy customers who have an unresolved complaint with their service provider are encouraged to contact the CRU Customer Care Team by visiting the website, www.cru.ie, calling 1890 404 404 (Lo-Call) or emailing email@example.com
To protect energy consumers the CRU has a robust suite of regulatory measures in place.
Customers should be aware that energy suppliers are at a minimum required to:
- Engage with consumers in financial difficulty on an individual basis, to agree affordable payment plans which take account of the customer’s ability to pay and their specific circumstances.
- Ensure that customers in financial difficulty will have their case heard sympathetically and that any offers of repayment by the customer will be carefully considered.
- Ensure adequate measures are in place to identify vulnerable consumers and provide additional protections to these consumers.
Similarly, energy customers should be aware of the following tips:
- Take note of your contract expiry date and engage with your current supplier or switch to another supplier at the end of your contract. If you do not switch or negotiate a new contract you will probably pay a more expensive tariff.
- Submit regular meter readings to ensure you receive accurate bills (you can check this on your bill). If your bill has been based on estimated usage, you may receive a catch-up bill.
- If you or a member of your household are vulnerable, notify your energy supplier who will talk you through the vulnerable customer register.
- PAYG meters are generally not suited for the medically vulnerable due to the likelihood of self-disconnection if the meter has not been topped up.
- Familiarise yourself with the terms and conditions of your contract – particularly with regard to any early termination fees and understand if your contract rates are fixed or variable. Most energy tariffs are variable and rarely completely ‘fixed’. If you believe you are signing up to a fixed tariff, be sure to read your terms and conditions carefully and query with your supplier about which elements of your contract are subject to change.