This shocking case* – one of more than 28,000 last year in Scotland – is detailed today in the latest report by Citizens Advice Scotland on how energy providers are still not doing enough to help those Scottish consumers who are on low incomes (see full story, below*).
The CAS report – Energy Advice in Detail – for the year 2015-16 which shows that the most common issues again concerned billing and metering.
But the report analyses all of the issues upon which Citizens Advice clients in Scotland sought energy advice, and places these issues within the wider policy context. Taken together, the evidence indicates the main areas in which energy markets are failing to meet the needs of consumers.
Jamie Stewart, policy officer in the Consumer Futures Unit of Citizens Advice Scotland, said: “Our evidence shows that billing and metering issues are still extremely prevalent and continue to be the most common energy issue reported across the Citizens Advice Service in Scotland.
“There are clear standards which gas and electricity suppliers are required to meet, but the data shows that problems remain and cause significant hardship for consumers – particularly for those on low or fixed incomes.
“Our cases also continue to show that customer service standards and complaints procedures are not sufficient and not delivered consistently. Customers can be faced with long and multiple telephone calls to call centres and can be given advice that is of varying quality and can be contradictory.
“Evidence from across our service shows that management of energy debt still needs to improve. Energy suppliers have a role in managing consumers’ debt responsibly and are subject to licence requirements to take ability to pay into account when setting debt repayment rates.
“The cases we deal with continue to show that this is not carried out consistently by suppliers.”
Issues were raised through the following three services:
- 23,237 new energy issues brought by clients through the 61 Citizens Advice Bureaux across Scotland – an increase of 5% from 2014-15.
- 4,210 calls from Scotland to the Citizens Advice Consumer Service
- 1,163 vulnerable consumers in Scotland supported by the Extra Help Unit, almost identical to the number in 2014-15.
* How Citizens Advice Scotland help a disabled consumer get a happy ending to a horror story after ‘computer ate my online form’
(As Scottish Power and SSE dominate the gas and electricity supply market in Scotland, this case is most probably likely to be one of theirs)
The consumer moved into a flat and found the prepayment meter was located in the communal hallway in a cupboard and was positioned near the ceiling. The consumer needed to climb a ladder to access the meter and add credit – which was not practicable.
When she started using the meter it seemed defective as it appeared to be taking money from any credits put in. She reported this to the supplier at the time and an engineer came out but it was unclear what action he took.
The consumer then developed a sudden onset condition affecting her knee; she had her leg in a brace and was unable to walk unaided. She therefore requested that the meter be exchanged for a credit meter as she was physically unable to top up the meter.
It appears the supplier attended but was unable to complete the required work, although it was unclear why.
The meter operator then attended and it was found the meter serial number did not match the one on their records and they were unable to exchange the meter.
The consumer had been left without electricity for extended periods because she was unable to access the meter and was relying on a neighbour to top up the meter which was not always possible.
She made a complaint online to the supplier but they said this was not received and she has no record because it was using an online form.
The Extra Help Unit raised the complaint and it was discovered that when the supplier had fitted the prepayment meter they had been unable to update the meter exchange details due to technical problems with a new billing system that had been introduced. This was preventing the meter exchange going head.
The Extra Help Unit liaised with the supplier and consumer to arrange a manually booked meter exchange appointment. The caseworker also negotiated for credit to be added to the prepayment meter in the meantime to ensure the consumer did not go off supply.
A total goodwill gesture of £80 was agreed overall and the meter was successfully exchanged.