Memorandum submitted by Consumer Focus
1. LINKS TO
Links to each of the legacy organisations can
be found on the Consumer Focus website here:
Overview of New Arrangements
In the energy sector, Consumer Focus' new tasks
will include a number of key roles that had previously been the
responsibility of energywatch. These include:
Representing the consumer voice in
the regulatory and government sphere.
Working with energy companies and
the regulator to resolve issues of consumer detriment.
Publishing consumer education materials
including leaflets and price comparison fact sheets. These will
be available on the Consumer Focus website and consumers without
internet access can telephone Consumer Direct to ask for a printed
Maintaining an online Knowledge Base
with detailed information about energy issues including regulatory
requirements, tips on how to resolve complaints, definitions of
industry terms, and contact details for energy companies.
Operation of the Confidence Code
for energy price comparison sites.
Publishing energy complaints performance
information to help consumers make informed switching decisions
and incentivise improvements in customer service performance.
Handling complaints from certain
categories of energy consumersthose who have been disconnected
or are off supply, those who are at risk of disconnection as well
as complaints from vulnerable consumers.
Handling complaints from MPs, MSPs
Additionally, there are other changes on 1 October:
Energy companies will be subject
to new and stringent set of complaint handling standards that
have been set by the regulator Ofgem. These standards apply to
all complaints from domestic and micro-business consumers made
to suppliers and energy network businesses.
Consumer Direct will take over energywatch's
role in providing independent help and advice to energy consumers.
It will also refer consumers to bodies that might be better able
to assist. Consumer Direct will refer all consumers it identifies
as being vulnerable, threatened with disconnection or who have
been disconnected to Consumer Focus.
Consumers who have been unable to
reach a satisfactory solution with their energy company will be
able to take their complaint to the Energy Ombudsman. It will
now have the power to look at all types of energy complaints including
complaints about the service provided by gas or electricity network
companies. Suppliers have a set time limit during which they can
attempt to resolve the complaint. The time limit is currently
eight weeks for the six major suppliers and 12 weeks for smaller
Providing advice and guidance to advice agencies
on energy complaints
Consumer Focus will provide a telephone based
Ask the Advisor service for advice agencies. Agencies can ring
the service and obtain advice or tips on how to resolve a particular
NOTE: This service
will not accept consumer complaint referrals. Agencies should
contact Consumer Direct if they believe their client is eligible
for referral to Consumer Focus.
Consumer Focus will be conducting a review of
how all customers regardless of where they live and what type
of fuel they use. The following press comment was issued on 27
"Over 4 million households cannot access
mains gas and use other fuels such as electricity, domestic heating
oil and LPG to heat and cook. Price rises in domestic heating
oil and LPG have spiralled even higher than those in gas and electricity,
so oil and LPG consumers are facing much higher costs than the
average energy consumer.
"Some of the suppliers are offering discounts
to their in area electricity only customers, but savings are small.
Consumers should check what is in their best interests by comparing
prices. Ideally, the best means of providing affordable heating
for households in off-gas areas is to install microgeneration
measures such as heat pumps, solar water heating and bio mass
boilers. However, for many people, this is just not feasible.
Consumers should contact the Energy Savings Trust advice centre
(0800 512 012).
"Consumer Focus will be conducting a review
of how all consumers are served in the energy sector. The results
will help shape policies that should benefit consumers no matter
where they live or what type of fuel they use in their homes".
10 February 2009