Record complaints about Co-operative Energy

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Co-operative Energy have won the dubious honour of being the most complained about energy supplier in the UK, according to figures from Citizens Advice.

In the three months from July to September, they managed to provoke 1,584 complaints per 100,000 customers - the highest ratio ever seen by Citizens Advice.

Even Scottish Power, who have set a few records for complaints in the past year or so, peaked at around 1,100 complaints per 100,000 before starting to improve; they're now ranked 17th out of the 19 companies Citizens Advice looked at.

Customers of SSE and their associated suppliers continue to be the most contented, with just 39 complaints per 100,000 in the three months to September.

The price of popularity

When looking at customer satisfaction and complaint levels, it's worth remembering that it is partly a numbers game: companies have to have a certain number of customers in order to be included in official data.

Citizens Advice now include in their complaints data energy suppliers who have more than 50,000 customer accounts - which has given them another 13 companies to scrutinise in the past two sets of results.

And as more of us turn away from the Big Six and give these smaller suppliers a chance, it's almost inevitable that the number of complaints about them is going to rise.

Even so, that doesn't explain quite how Co-operative Energy have managed to garner around 40 times the number of complaints aimed at either of the two least complained about suppliers, SSE and EDF.

The six least complained about energy companies

Supplier Complaints per 100,000 customers Jul - Sep 2015 Complaints per 100,000 customers Apr - Jun 2015
1 SSE 38.9 47.7
2 EDF Energy 43.3 64.3
3 Green Star Energy 49.1 97.4
4 E (Gas and Electricity) 49.1 n/a
5 British Gas 86.4 82.8
6 E.On 89.9 88.8

SOURCE: Citizens Advice, full figures available here.

The six most complained about energy companies:

Supplier Complaints per 100,000 customers Jul - Sep 2015 Complaints per 100,000 customers Apr - Jun 2015
1 Co-operative Energy 1584.1 645.1
2 Extra Energy 1164.4 769.5
3 Scottish Power 740.3 944.3
4 Npower 690.1 577.1
5 Spark Energy 482.8 518.2
6 First Utility 455.9 420.6

SOURCE: Citizens Advice, full figures available here.

Some of the smaller companies have already been on the radar for issues regarding their customer service before Citizens Advice started to compare them.

Ofgem included the four biggest of them - First Utility, Ovo, Co-operative Energy and Utility Warehouse - in their complaints data for the first time late last year, and found that almost 60% of customers who'd complained about them said they'd felt unfairly treated.

Of these four, only Utility Warehouse haven't seen complaints increase. First Utility have seen an 8% rise in grievances, and Ovo a 12% increase - but Co-operative Energy have seen their figures shoot up by 246%.

Familiar problems

It may not come as any surprise to hear that Co-operative Energy's woes - and those of their customers - appear to have been caused by the move to a new IT system to deal with billing and customer service.

Many of those who've had an account with Scottish Power or Npower in the past few years will be able to vouch for the trouble that can cause - and how long it can take for service to return to normal afterwards.

In 2010, Npower were ordered to pay some £63 million in compensation to almost two million households for billing issues that had occurred three years earlier.

Then in 2012 complaints about them started to rise following the introduction of a new billing system, peaking in September 2014. Since then complaints have decreased a little, but they're a very long way from the days when they hovered around 100 per 100,000 customers.

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And while Scottish Power may have prompted fewer complaints in the last quarter than the one before, they're still languishing near the very bottom of the Citizens Advice table, 17th out of 19 companies.

Just two years ago they were one of the better energy companies both in terms of the number of complaints they prompted, and how they dealt with them, but that changed dramatically when they moved to their new billing system.

In November last year Ofgem gave them three service targets to meet, including dealing with customer phone calls more quickly and clearing the backlog of almost 2,600 cases which had been ruled on by the Ombudsman.

In February this year they were banned from making proactive sales calls for 12 days after failing to meet this last target.

Expecting more

Energy suppliers may feel like they've been under extra scrutiny this year as the result of the Competition and Markets Authority's (CMA) investigation into domestic energy pricing.

Back in February the CMA announced some of their initial findings, which included the finding that most dual fuel customers could save up to £230 a year by moving to a different company.

When they published their full report in July, the headline was that the Big Six had been overcharging their customers to the tune of £1.2 billion a year.

It's possible that the increased awareness resulting from that investigation, and continuing anger about energy prices in general has prompted more people to complain - and to look at the available alternatives.

It's also possible that some of the smaller companies may be struggling to cope with the increased interest - but that doesn't seem to be the case for Green Star Energy.

They're one of six independents who've seen a marked increase in their customer numbers in the past couple of years - but the number of complaints made about them is incredibly low.

In the last Citizens Advice table they ranked eighth, with a very respectable 97 complaints per 100,000 customers; now they're in third place, and presenting quite a challenge to both SSE and EDF, with just 49 complaints per 100,000 customers.

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