Power suppliers face stricter regime

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The Independent Online
ELECTRICITY supply companies will be forced to pay up to pounds 100 for failing to meet stricter standards of service planned by the industry regulator, Offer.

The companies will also be asked to cut the number of estimated bills they send out, which can cause unexpectedly high bills for some consumers after a series of under-estimates, under a tougher regime that the regulator would like to see in place by the next financial year.

Offer says that customers needing to be visited at home should be offered specific appointments by the supply company, or at least a choice of morning or afternoon. The companies, which are also being asked to consider visits outside normal working hours, will have to pay pounds 20 if the appointment is not kept.

Professor Stephen Littlechild, director-general of Offer, believes the standards of service regime introduced last year is too lax and he is inviting views on a tougher scheme.

Professor Littlechild plans to double the minimum penalty to pounds 20 for companies failing to meet standards on a range of basic services, including answering payment queries and giving notice of disconnection. The penalty for failing to restore electricity within one day after a fault is reported will rise to pounds 40 for domestic customers and to pounds 100 for business customers. These same penalties will apply if a company fails to provide a supply and a meter within three working days for households and within five days for most other customers.

Offer said that so far only pounds 147,000 had been paid out in penalties by the electricity supply companies, with the maximum for an individual company being pounds 35,000. Professor Littlechild said: 'Standards should not remain static but develop to reflect customers' needs and expectations.'