The Big Six energy suppliers are the worst for customer satisfaction and value for money, while smaller firms such as Ecotricity and Good Energy are the best, according to a new Which? survey.
In the week that the Big Six came under fire for failing to pass on the full decline in wholesale energy costs to their customers, the survey finds a gulf between the service they offer and that provided by the less well-known suppliers.
At the bottom of the energy provider league table, npower was given a customer score of just 35 per cent, leaving huge room for improvement. Meanwhile, top-placed Ecotricity got 84 per cent, suggesting there is little wrong with its customer service operation.
“Smaller suppliers are wiping the floor with the big six on customer service. The large energy firms, which dominate the market, need to up their game as customers deserve better,” said Which? executive director Richard Lloyd.
“We need the Competition and Markets Authority [currently investigating the Big Six] to propose radical remedies to fix this broken market. Instead of waiting for the outcome of the competition inquiry, companies should make immediate improvements to help restore trust among their long-suffering customers,” he added.
The Big Six provide about 90 per cent of UK households energy. Which? said the scores in its survey were low compared to the products and services it investigates in other industries. However, the consumer group did say that the energy industry’s overall score had improved slightly over the past year – to an average of 48 per cent this year, compared to 41 per cent last time.
The survey is a boost for environmentally-friendly power, with the top two providers – Ecotricity and Good Energy – supplying all of their electricity from renewable sources.
Which? praised Ecotricity for being green, for receiving the lowest number of complaints, for having a simple tariff structure and providing a discount for electric vehicle owners. On the downside, it pointed out that the company was more expensive than market leaders.
Npower was criticised for getting a high number of complaints but is praised for taking past Which? advice to improve its procedures, including answering calls more quickly.
E.ON last week cut gas prices by 3.5 per cent in the face of far greater declines in wholesale costs. Scottish Power said it will reduce gas prices by 4.8 per cent, but not until 20 February, when the coldest weather is likely to be over. British Gas has announced a 5 per cent cut from 27 February. The other three have yet to bring down prices.
The independent suppliers have also been slow to bring down their prices in the face of falling wholesale costs. Yesterday, Ecotricity announced it would reduce gas bills by 6.1 per cent, but not until 1 May.
However, the independent suppliers contend that most of their customers tend to be on fixed long-term tariffs, in contrast to the Big Six, where many are on the variable tariffs, which tend to be more expensive.