Julian Knight: It's high time for the 'Big Six' suppliers to clean up their act
Energy companies are in for a tough ride if they don't listen to consumers
Saturday 28 September 2013
Oh to be a fly on the wall at the next board meetings of the UK's "Big Six" energy suppliers. Whatever you think of the merits or otherwise of Labour leader Ed Miliband's pledge to freeze energy bills for two years if elected, the truth is that the energy companies and their practices are going to be under scrutiny as never before.
They won't be able to say boo to a goose without being drawn into the political arena.
If they thought bankers have it tough, the energy firms should try the press they are going to get ahead of the 2015 general election.
Their initial reaction to Mr Miliband's announcement was terribly miscalculated, as they instantly suggested that power cuts would result. This struck me and many others as simply bullying.
If the energy companies want to escape becoming the nation's bogeymen – and I strongly suggest that they do – they will have to genuinely listen to what consumer groups have been telling them for a long time.
Here are some key changes they can do now: stop penalising consumers who are on pre-payment meters, go further than regulators demand in ending confusing tariffs, publicise better all measures to help with insulation and overdue bill repayments and also ensure that when they do take too much from consumers through direct debits they are quicker about returning it. This isn't just about creating a new marketing strategy but about the Big Six undergoing a cultural sea change.
The early signs from the reaction to Mr Miliband's announcement are not good and if they don't get their collective act together soon then I reckon many of those sitting on the Big Six boards won't be there in two or three years time.
Close followers of my comment – hello mum – will remember that I have been a vocal critic of Clydesdale Bank's treatment of its mortgage customers.
Back in 2010 it was revealed that the bank had systematically undercharged its mortgage customers entirely due to an error on its part and started to pursue homeowners in the depths of the biggest recession since the 1930s to retrieve back payment.
The arrogance shown by the Clydesdale at the time was simply breathtaking. Now it seems that the Financial Conduct Authority agrees with me. Last week the watchdog imposed an £8.9m fine on the bank for failing its mortgage customers.
In response, the Clydesdale says that it will issue refunds and give a full apology within 48 hours – that is, only three years too late.
The damage to its reputation has been huge and rightly so.
Turning their nose up
I had an interesting email from an independent financial advice (IFA) firm Harrison Spencer Partnership this week slamming the short- sightedness of the industry in only focusing on Britain's surprisingly small band of "high net worth" individuals.
The emailer wrote: "The conventional wisdom for financial advisers runs something like this: post-retail distribution review (the banning of commission), a client must generate at least £2,000 to £3,000 a year to be viable.
"Almost all prospective new clients have great potential – turning them away because they don't meet a high minimum threshold is like pouring money down the drain."
I couldn't agree more with that. Can you imagine any other industry which would collectively turn its nose up at so many good potential long-term clients?
Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown
Money Alert: Surviving Winter
Simon Read: There may be trouble ahead for cohabiting couples who don’t make a will
Mark Dampier: Strong returns can be found if you go the opposite way to the crowds
Money Insider: Would £150 make you switch banks?
Bargain Hunter: Find the deals that have real value beneath the Black Friday hype
- 1 To help fuel their propaganda machine against the poor, our government has now decided to redefine the word 'welfare'
- 2 Tower Bridge glass walkway 'smashed' by night-time visitor dropping bottle of beer
- 3 Anti-gay hate preacher accidentally tweets 4,000 followers cartoon clip of him 'confessing' to be a 'homosexual sodomite'
- 4 Woman opens professional cuddling shop – gets 10,000 customers in first week
- 5 Grayson Perry: London needs affordable housing because 'rich people don't create culture'
Rochester by-election: Ukip gains second MP as Tory defector Mark Reckless holds seat
'Beast of Bolsover' Dennis Skinner takes Ukip MP Mark Reckless to task moments after he is sworn in
Rochester by-election: Labour MP Emily Thornberry resigns after posting white van and England flags tweet
France 'blocks' Russian sailors from boarding a warship
Revealed: How the world gets rich – from privatising British public services
Myleene Klass: Ed Miliband 'strikes back' by comparing UK's need for Labour's mansion tax to Hear'Say track
iJobs Money & Business
Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Age Concern Slough a...
Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Crossroads Care is s...
£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35,000: SThree: We consistently strive to be ...
£50000 - £90000 per annum + benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Markit EDM (CA...
Day In a Page
A deceptively spacious, beautifully presented Georgian home with 3000sq ft of living space and five reception rooms
A five-bedroom Victorian home with four receptions, superb gardens and paddock in Pembury
An eight-bedroom house on the south side of the The Green with cinema, wine cellars and summer house
This 17th century beauty is full of rustic cosiness, while the detached home office means you can also run a business
This five-bedroom red-brick beauty overlooks the village green and sits in just under two acres of land
Four exclusive apartments in a Grade II-listed former medical school with 2,275 sq ft of living space and 18ft ceilings
A five-bedroom terraced house on the popular Peterborough Estate, ideally located for both Eel Brook Common and South Park
A state-of-the-art farm-building conversion on the former Cliveden Estate, with 11,420sq ft of internal space, cinema and wine cellar
A three-bedroom, 15th-century cottage with original features in the picturesque village of Sissinghurst
A six-bedroom terraced house with large south-facing roof terrace, cinema room and wine cellar
A new seven-bedroom home built in Queen Anne-style with swimming pool and parkland views in Mortimer
A listed, four-bedroom farmhouse in the rural hamlet of Rushall with detached barn, four acres of gardens and paddocks
A first-floor flat with two bedrooms, a spacious reception room and communal grounds in a leafy part of London
A three-bedroom flat with a spacious rootop terrace and balcony, accessed from a private gated courtyard
A Grade II-listed pile with six bedrooms, stables and 39 acres of grounds in Standlake
A two-bedroom flat with boutique hotel-style interiors, close to the foodie haunt of West End Lane
A two-bedroom flat in a beautiful old vicarage, with many original features, close to the city centre
A three-bedroom 16th-century home with an aga kitchen, private gardens and heated outdoor pool, in Hadleigh
A three-bedrom home in sought-after Queen's Gate Mews, with Italian marble-finished bathrooms
Surrounded by glorious countryside in the village of Udimore, sits this impressive four-kiln oast and barn conversion
A five-bedroom house in the picturesque village of Kettlewell, north Yorkshire
An 18th-century former coaching inn with original staircase, open fireplaces and beams throughout
A Grade II-listed Georgian town house with three bedrooms and a south-facing courtyard, near Arundel Castle
Feel on top of the world at this über chic penthouse on the 37th floor of one of Europe’s tallest blocks.
A Grade II-listed Victorian villa with six bedrooms and two further cottages, all with spectacular sea views
A grade II-listed, Georgian cottage with mature 50ft garden, perfect for summer entertaining
A magnificent Georgian pile with turrets, seven bedrooms, a heated pool and four acres of gardens
Fairoak Farm has five bedroom suites, gym, outdoor swimming pool and golf course
Chic two-bedroom river-fronted flat with a private lift that delivers you directly to your home
A spectacular seven-bedroom Tudor pile, once owned by Henry VIII, with 18 acres of land
A seven-bedroom Georgian property previously used as a picturesque wedding venue
A split-level flat in a church conversion with two en suite bedrooms and 1,200sq ft of living space
A three-bedroom bungalow situated behind an impressive stone wall, £645,000
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
Chapel House is a former vicarage with nine bedrooms in the beautiful Upper Wye Valley
A five-bedroom B&B and separate owner's accomodation with potential for conversion
Enjoy summer by the Thames in this two double-bedroom converted warehouse in Rotherhithe village
A one-bedroom, luxury apartment with private gym and concierge service in Moorgate
A four-bedroom house in Hermitage Gardens with three reception rooms and landscaped gardens