Customer service standards at UK energy providers have plummeted to their worst levels since 2017, coinciding with soaring bills, according to Citizens Advice.
Days after households were hit with a record energy bill increase after the regulator lifted the price cap, the charity said its research had revealed a drop in customer service across the board, with many people facing long waits on the phone or for a reply to an email.
Citizens Advice’s latest star rating table covers customer service between 1 October and 31 December 2021, when more than a dozen suppliers collapsed, including Bulb Energy, Pure Planet and Orbit Energy.
In recent days many of the biggest energy firms have come under fire after their websites crashed as customers rushed to submit meter readings before the 1 April price hike took effect.
Citizens Advice said that despite the backdrop of suppliers collapsing, it was concerned that its data was “part of a trend of declining standards at a time” when people particularly needed “support from their energy companies to cope with record bills and a cost of living crisis”. It added: “Energy suppliers’ customer service is the worst it’s been on average since 2017.”
According to the updated table, even the best-performing suppliers are now scoring less than four out of five stars. Until last year, the best supplier had always scored more than four stars. It named the “worst-performing” firms as Utilita, Boost, Ecotricity, Good Energy and Ovo. The lowest score among these dropped to 1.7 compared with 2.1 in the previous quarter.
One of the main drivers of the low scores was the rise in call waiting times, said Citizens Advice. The average call waiting time is now more than five minutes, compared with about four minutes during the same period in 2020, though customers with some suppliers face wait times of about 15 minutes. Email response times have also become slightly worse.
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According to the latest ratings, the highest score is now 3.85 out of five. The five suppliers at the top of the table are M&S Energy, EDF, Octopus Energy, Affect Energy and So Energy.
Dame Clare Moriarty, the chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “The drop in customer service standards comes at the worst time possible.”
She added: “It’s Ofgem’s job to make sure companies are delivering a good service. But the current system isn’t working.”
The charity compares suppliers’ customer service by looking at information from a number of sources, including complaints, billing and switching data.