Big Six supplier complaint numbers fall, says Ofgem

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According to recently released figures from Ofgem, the UK energy regulator, Big Six energy companies have brought down the number of complaints they receive. By contrast, very small energy providers have seen an aggregate increase in the number of complaints during the past five years. Let’s take a look at what this means for British consumers.



Should I switch to a Big Six energy provider now?

It all depends on whether you are happy with your current provider or not. Five years ago, customer satisfaction was in a very different place and Ofgem’s tracking data shows this clearly. In 2014, Big Six energy suppliers had almost four times as many complaints as small gas and electricity providers.

They could afford to have almost 4000 complaints per 100,000 customers because they had an effective monopoly, 98% of consumers, on the UK residential energy market.

Over the last five years, more and more people have switched over to smaller suppliers who generally delivered better customer service for comparable or cheaper pricing. At the same time, the Big Six suppliers have seen over 25% of their market share jump ship, impacting profitability and bringing down SSE, one of their own.

It’s as clear as day that Big Six energy providers like British Gas have received the message loud and clear. Since 2014, the number of Big Six complaints (orange line in the graph below) has been cut down by almost half.

british energy complaint trends

How to pick a Big Six winner?

Not every single Big Six gas and electricity company has necessarily improved over the past five years. However, there are large energy providers who have lowered prices (if you know where to look) and are nowadays treating their customers better.

Companies like EDF Energy and British Gas will often have exclusive deals with certain energy tariff comparison services like Selectra with rates that are well below the energy price cap.

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The dog eat dog world of small energy companies

While Big Six energy complaints have gone down, the opposite has happened for small energy companies when it comes to complaints. If we follow the blue line (representing smaller energy suppliers) in the graph above, we can plainly see that their customer complaints have essentially doubled during the same time period.

The rapid influx of customers looking for cheaper prices offered by smaller energy providers is partly to blame for this reversal in customer service trends. A clear example of this is Utility Point who at one point offered some of the cheapest gas and electricity tariffs but were swamped by an influx of customers and unfortunately could not scale up their customer support operations in time, resulting in Ofgem temporarily banning them from taking on more customers.

At the same time, not all small suppliers are as angelic as Ofgem would hope. Spark and Toto Energy are two examples of small suppliers failing to deliver decent service for their customers and for the industry as a whole. Spark Energy had a record number of complaints due to underquoting customers by underestimating their energy consumption during sign up.

Toto Energy ran up £4.5 million in debt which included overdue renewable energy payments to Ofgem, resulting in its eventual demise. This meant that all Toto customers have to be switched over to a different and hopefully more solvent provider through an auction process.

The issue is that six months before Toto Energy’s demise, the company had taken on Solarplicity, another failed supplier, customers.

It’s worth noting that eight energy providers went under in 2019, with all this turmoil it seems that many smaller suppliers are experiencing growing pains, leading to customer support slipping by the wayside across the newer entrants.

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