Problems at EDF lead to huge rise in complaints

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EDF Energy has increased gas and electricity prices while giving an "unnacceptable" complaints performance, the government watchdog Consumer Focus said yesterday.

The power company saw the number of complaints about it soar by almost three quarters since the spring. The figures for the three months to the end of September are up by 91 per cent on the same quarter last year.

Adam Scorer, director of external affairs at Consumer Focus, said: "Complaints about EDF Energy over the summer have had a catastrophic impact on its rating. While system changes inevitably cause disruption to customers, this must be minimised."

He said the company urgently needed to clean up its act. "EDF's current complaints performance is unacceptable and the company must take further steps to tackle this," said Mr Scorer.

EDF Energy – which increased prices by 15.4 per cent for gas and 4.5 per cent for electricity on 10 November – admitted it had had problems in the last few months. A spokesman said: "We are obviously disappointed that we have not been in a position to consistently deliver the high levels of service this year that our customers have been used to."

"We sincerely apologise to those customers who have experienced any problems during this temporary period and thank them for their patience." The firm blamed the introduction of new systems and having an inadequate number of service staff to help customers deal with the changes.

EDF recruited 700 extra service staff to deal with the changes, but was forced to recruit an additional 400 when problems quickly grew.

A spokesman said: "Throughout this year we have been implementing new systems." He added that the changes led to "our customer services operated to a lower standard between May and September."

It wasn't just EDF that proved guilty of failing customers. Complaints across the industry rose, on average, by just over a quarter from July to September.

At the same time all the big six firms announced massive price hikes, including a 19 per cent gas price rise from Scottish Power and a 16 per cent electricity price hike by British Gas.

"It is disappointing, but perhaps not surprising, that complaints on energy issues have risen at a time when energy bills are increasing," said Mr Scorer. "Energy companies have repeatedly said they want to rebuild consumer trust. Good customer service and complaints handling are key ingredients to building consumer trust but suppliers still have a long way to go."