Thursday, May 30, 2024

Utilities watchdog to increase complaint investigation resources after surge in cases

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The utilities watchdog announced it will ramp up resources dedicated to investigating customer complaints after reporting a surge in cases last year.

In 2023, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) opened 617 complaint investigations against energy companies and Uisce Éireann, a jump of 71% on the previous year.

“The CRU is aware of the impact energy prices is having on households and businesses, particularly those that may already be struggling to pay their bills,” the regulator said.

“Suppliers are required to work out a manageable payment plan with customers who are experiencing difficulties,” it added.

Common complaints across the energy sector included billing, smart metering, quality of supply including outages, and the allocation of electricity credits, according to the regulator’s Customer Care Team (CCT) Annual Report 2023.

Common complaints in relation to water services related to issues with connections, leaks, wastewater and accounts, the report showed.

The CCT closed 371 complex complaints, an increase of 43% on the previous year. In 33% of the cases investigated, the CCT found in favour of the complainant.

The rest of the cases were closed through early settlement offers. Electric Ireland engaged in early settlement offers more often than other suppliers, with 65% of the CRU cases closed by settlement were between customers and Electric Ireland.

In relation to complaints against Uisce Éireann, the CRU opened 37 investigations, an increase of 42% in annual terms. Connection problems drove the number of complaints.

The CRU closed 27 of these complex complaints, an increase of 59% compared to 2022 figures.

In the energy market, the share of complaints upheld by Electric Ireland, the largest supplier in the Republic with a market share of 45%, came to 38%.

The share of complaints upheld against Electric Ireland’s rival Bord Gáis Energy was double its market share at 42%.

Energia, SSE Airtricity and Yuno, which trades as PrepayPower all had shares of upheld complaints lower than their market shares.

Smaller suppliers such as Flogas had 3% of market share and contributed to 10% of upheld complex complaints, while Pinergy had 1% of market share and contributed to 3% of upheld complaints.

These firms have a substantially lower customer numbers when compared to larger suppliers such as Electric Ireland, therefore results for these suppliers can appear starker than those of the bigger players.

The CCT received a total 31,517 contacts last year, a 1% increase from 2022. These figures relate to customers contacting the regulator about general inquiries in addition to complaint issues.

“2023 continued to show a high number of contacts from energy and water customers to the CRU’s Customer Care Team, driven by challenges of increased prices,” said CRU director of customer policy and protection Karen Trant.

The suspension of domestic water charging in 2016 resulted in a significant decrease in the volume of Uisce Éireann-related contacts to the CRU. Contact and complaint levels to the CRU have remained lower overall since 2016. Uisce Éireann contacts made up 4% of overall contacts received by the CCT in 2023.

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