Energy Firms Feel Heat On Customer Complaints
Complaints against the so-called 'Big Six' energy providers have reached their highest quarterly level on record, as they face separate demands to cut bills.
Which? reported a 15% spike in gripes between January and March on the same period last year - reaching a total of 1.7 million.
There were 5.5 million complaints during 2013 and the consumer group said the rising tide showed the industry was ridden with poor service.
Npower continued to lead the way in the first quarter, with 83 complaints per 1,000 customers, as the company remained under pressure over a new billing infrastructure.
The firm said today: "While we have seen issues with our billing system, which have affected some customers, we're now beginning to make progress.
"We're billing 95% of our customers on time and in the past three weeks we have reduced our total complaints by 32% as well as resolving 88% of complaints within 24 hours".
Which? said Scottish Power received the fewest complaints at 13 for every 1,000 customers while SSE, British Gas and E.On all received around 30 complaints per 1,000 though SSE's figure doubled.
EDF's complaints dropped from 77 per 1,000 customers this time last year to 46.
Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: "Yet again millions of customers are being let down by poor service from the 'Big Six' energy companies. This has to change.
"If they want to improve the low level of consumer trust in the energy market, suppliers must up their game now, rather than wait for the results of a competition review."
It emerged earlier this month that the energy regulator, Ofgem, had written to the firms demanding to know why they had failed to pass on falling wholesale energy costs to consumers in the form of lower bills.
It also acted this week to cut switching times by half.
Labour said today that it wants Ofgem to be given the powers to force companies to cut their bills amid accusations the firms are quick to raise them when their costs rise but slow to react when wholesale costs tumble.
The companies have argued they need fair profits to pay for crucial investment in the country's energy infrastructure and they must buy early to secure future supplies - meaning current market prices are not always relevant.
Shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint said Labour planned to undertake the "biggest overhaul of our energy market since privatisation".
She said: "Our plans will break up the big energy companies, put an end to their secret deals and create a tough new regulator with the power to force companies to cut their prices when wholesale costs fall.
"And until these reforms kick in, we will put a stop to unfair price rises by freezing energy bills until 2017, saving the average household £120".
Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey said: "Energy companies need to up their game - people are switching suppliers in unprecedented numbers, particularly to small suppliers, whose numbers have nearly trebled since 2010".