The Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) is encouraging customers to carefully read and review their bills, as billing complaints remained the primary reason for complaints in the CRU Customer Care Team Annual Report 2020.
The report details the work carried out by the CRU’s Customer Care Team, which provides an independent complaints resolution service for customers who have an unresolved dispute with their energy supplier, network operator or Irish Water.
The Covid-19 pandemic presented new challenges for the CRU, suppliers, and customers alike, and the CRU worked with the relevant stakeholders to address these issues. Several customer protection measures were introduced by the CRU during this time. These included increasing the value of emergency credit on gas PAYG meters, introducing a moratorium on domestic disconnections, introducing a temporary supply scheme for business customers and greater monitoring and reporting on customer arrears.
In 2020, the CRU opened 179 complex complaints involving energy suppliers or network companies. This is a 37% decrease on the number of energy related complaints opened in 2019. Complex complaints were on an upward trend from 2016 to 2019, however, decreased in 2020 which may have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2020, the Customer Care Team opened its lowest level of complaints since its formation in 2008.
Billing and account problems, year on year, continue to produce most customer complaints. A large portion of complaints to the CRU are as a result of catch-up bills/bill shock where an actual meter read is provided following estimated reads. Billing issues accounted for almost half (46%) of energy complex complaints to the CRU during 2020.
This may be due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the suspension of meter reading during certain periods of the year leading to estimated bills. Once meter reading resumed, customers would have received actual bills reflecting customers’ usage which may have been higher than anticipated due to the previous estimated bills. The CRU therefore stresses the importance of customers carefully reading and reviewing their bills.
The CRU advises that customers check their energy bills and ensure that they are not currently being billed on their estimated usage, providing regular meter readings to their supplier can help make sure that they do not receive any unexpected catch-up bills.
If customers complain to their supplier or network operator and are not happy with their response after completing their complaints process, they can log a formal complaint with the CRU. The CRU can investigate the matter and issue a decision that is legally binding on the energy company.
According to the published report, in 2020, the CRU investigated 179 complex energy complaints and 33% of these were upheld in favour of the customer.
Contacts to the CRU regarding Just Energy, Go Power, Panda Power and SSE Airtricity greatly reduced, along with a reduction in contacts for BGE, Electric Ireland, Energia, and Pinergy, while contacts for two suppliers increased.
Pinergy and Iberdrola had the lowest volume of complaints per customer, with zero complex complaints lodged against it in 2020. Prepay Power had the second lowest level of complaints. Flogas and Panda Power had the highest level of complex complaints per 10,000 customers referred to the CRU; however, both suppliers have a small market share when compared against the other suppliers. Further details are available in the full report.
The CRU received 240 customer contacts in relation to Irish Water in 2020. Most contacts were in relation to billing and account problems. Customers also noted that Irish Water was failing to respond to their queries in a timely manner and/or not escalating their complaints.
There were 22 complex complaints received, a decrease of 35% compared to 2019. Billing and Account problems accounted for the majority of Irish Water complaints; primarily complaints from non-domestic customers who are receiving regular bills.
Commenting on the report, CRU Chairperson Aoife MacEvilly said: “The 2020 Customer Care Annual Report highlights the impact of COVID-19 t leading to a fall in complaints overall. Catch-up bills continue to dominate the complaints the CRU received, which was heightened due to the COVID-19 restrictions on meter reading. As we roll out smart electricity meters, we should see a reduction in estimated bills but in the meantime, we would encourage customers to regularly submit meter readings and carefully read their bills in order to avoid this issue.Customers can feel assured that the CRU will provide an independent and free complaints resolution service if they have an ongoing issue with a supplier, to ensure their rights are fully protected.”
The full CRU Customer Care Annual Report 2020 can be viewed here.
Energy or water 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 1800 404 404 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.