'Unacceptable' service leads to Scottish Power ban threat


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The Independent Online

Scottish Power has been put on notice by the energy regulator to sort out its customer service or face a sales ban.

Ofgem yesterday took the unprecedented step of giving the energy giant just three months to clear its problems, demanding improvements in three key areas: call waiting times, late bills and Ombudsman complaints.

Sarah Harrison, enforcement chief at Ofgem, said: “Scottish Power’s customers are experiencing unacceptably long call waiting times and a drastic drop in overall customer satisfaction.”

The charity Citizens Advice said woeful customer service has been plaguing Scottish Power customers. Gillian Guy, chief executive, said: “Getting bills right is a basic part of supplying energy, yet people are coming to us with a myriad of problems, including bogus bills and switching charges.

Ms Guy said the charity had helped one person who was wrongly sent a demand for more than £5,000. She added: “For well over a year, Citizens Advice has been raising these problems with Scottish Power, but instead of seeing improvements, things have only got worse with complaints about the company doubling since the start of the year.”

Scottish Power must publish weekly progress reports from the end of November, detailing call waiting times. It must also reduce the number of overdue bills. Ofgem said that, at the moment, more than 75,000 are late. It told the energy supplier that the figure must drop to 30,000 by the end of December.

However, Scottish Power only has until the end of this month to remove completely the backlog for acting on Ombudsman decisions for individual complaints.

If it misses any of its targets, its proactive sales activities will instantly be suspended, Ofgem warned.  “The need for our intervention here is yet more evidence that the energy market is not working for consumers,” said Ms Harrison.

Scottish Power’s chief executive, Neil Clitheroe, said: “I would like to apologise unreservedly to any customer who has not received the level of service that they deserve from Scottish Power in recent months and provide my personal assurance that we will do what we can to correct every problem, pay appropriate compensation and ensure that no customer is disadvantaged.”

Caroline Flint MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, said: “This is yet another example of the big energy companies failing their customers.

“The public have a right to be treated fairly by energy companies. If they persist in mistreating their customers, they must know their licence could be on the line.”

Ms Guy pointed out that the problems are the fourth time a major supplier has caused customer service misery as a result of a new billing system. “It is these problems, and the high cost of energy, that underpins the lack of trust in suppliers. It is high time the industry learnt from its mistakes,” she said.