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Avoiding pause in smart meter rollout ‘priority’ for Energy UK

The industry must avoid any hiatus in the smart meter rollout programme when installation of the SMETS1 devices ends in mid-March, Energy UK’s director of regulation has told MPs.

In a letter to Rachel Reeves, chair of the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) select committee, Audrey Gallagher writes that the industry body’s “immediate priority” vis-à-vis the smart meter programme is to avoid any pause resulting from the end date for installing the less sophisticated devices on 15 March.

The letter addresses outstanding points following the committee’s hearing into the National Audit Office’s recent report on the rollout of the smart meter programme.

A hiatus, which could be caused by a shortage of SMETS2 meters available for prepayment or in certain geographical locations in the northern communications network area, could result in engineers being stood down and customers missing out on smart benefits, she writes.

Gallagher adds that the continued rollout of smart meters is “essential” with suppliers taking all “reasonable steps; to install a smart meter in every home and business, not simply offer one.”

In her letter, Gallagher also expresses agreement with the committee’s concern that it is “unacceptable” that 30 per cent of customers cannot recall having received energy efficiency advice when their smart meters were installed even though the rate is much higher at some suppliers.

“It is clear that not all are performing at the levels they should be to ensure consumers obtain the full benefits of the smart rollout,” Gallagher writes, adding that Energy UK is leading on work with its members to share learning and best practice in the area.

She also confirms that all of Energy UK’s supplier members also use the Energy Efficiency Advice toolkit developed by the BEIS department.

In separate correspondence with Reeves, Rob Salter-Church, director of retail systems transformation at Ofgem has identified SSE as the best supplier at providing customers with energy efficiency advice when carrying out smart meter installations.

Out of the customers who have had a smart meter installed by SSE, 89 per cent recalled being offered advice on energy efficiency, he writes, the highest proportion of any supplier.

And Salter-Church writes that EDF has increased its recall rates on energy efficiency advice to 83 per cent.

He writes that both suppliers have shown improvements in the proportion of their customers who recall being offered energy efficiency advice when they have a smart meter installed.

The Ofgem director had been pressed to reveal the names of the two companies by Reeves who criticised him for not having the facts at his fingertips when he gave evidence to the committee at the hearing into smart meters.

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UK manufacturing and utility organisations focus on customer relations

Customer relations are becoming more of a focus for the majority of manufacturing and utility organisations, as 60 per cent believe that these have improved over the last three years, citing that this is mainly due to improved communications with customers. This is according to a global study commissioned by Fujitsu, which found the majority (56 per cent) of manufacturing and utility organisations believe that society and the public have become more critical of the business community.

Moreover, half (48 per cent) trust that their ability to contribute to society has improved, with 58 percent attributing this due to a focus on innovating products and services that have a positive effect on society. Nevertheless, the findings emphasised the role of trust as a key factor to a successful company, with eight in 10 (80 per cent) referencing it as an important influence in maintaining strong customer relationships.

Over the next decade, manufacturing and utility organisations are also planning to adapt to meet these customer expectations, with a fifth looking to make digital technology investments to improve business operations and efficiencies, which in turn will benefit employees and customers experience.

Graeme Wright, CTO for manufacturing, utilities and services at Fujitsu UK said, “In an era where digital technologies are undeniably disrupting the sector, manufacturing and utility companies need to ensure their organisations are built in a way that allows them to continually embrace innovation and drive productivity.

“It’s vital that all organisations across these sectors digitally transform as it can positively contribute to many different aspects of business, from customer engagement to innovation. Moreover, this will be the deciding factor between competitors.

“In doing so, organisations will be able to readily streamline processes and truly focus on customer needs and demands and increase trust.”

Digital transformation for manufacturing and utility organisations will continue to be a focus for many. Over half (56 per cent) believe it is vital for harnessing business innovation and improving products and services, with automation playing a key role in this. In fact, over two fifths (44 per cent) plan on automating some human tasks within the next three years.

Wright added, “Many manufacturing and utilities organisations are still using highly qualified workers for repetitive and mundane tasks, which adds a significant cost to production and does nothing for employee engagement.

“But with a widening skills gap, companies will increasingly use digital transformation to create more efficient, productive and cost-effective processes through the use of automation. This will allow skilled workers to focus on the bigger, more impactful and creative tasks, whilst offering breakthroughs in efficiencies which will close the gap in supply and demand for a skilled workforce.”

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Would you trust an energy firm run from a dingy, graffiti-scarred site – fronted by a rocker in a local band? That’s what the energy supplier boom has delivered

New suppliers have provided much-needed competition in the energy market, often undercutting the prices of the Big Six – British Gas, EDF, Eon, Npower, ScottishPower and SSE.

But some of the entrants, poorly resourced and woefully capitalised, have not lasted long.

Hit by rising wholesale prices and ever-increasing payments to the Government, they have gone into meltdown.

Over the past 12 months, nine suppliers have gone bust, the latest being Economy, which had 235,000 customers.

Although regulator Ofgem has promised to tighten the rules governing the granting of licences to new suppliers, it will not stop some existing companies from going bust, or their customer service standards plummeting.

In this special investigation, Toby Walne pays an unscheduled visit to some of the smaller suppliers to see with his own eyes whether they look either fit for purpose or just tin-pot operations. Jeff Prestridge, meanwhile, runs the rule over the finances underpinning these businesses – and their customer service standards.

Outfox The Market

Entered market: September 2017.

Location: Leicester.

What our reporter saw: Worryingly, my car’s satellite navigation system takes me to a derelict building site close to Leicester city centre. Has Outfox the Market, the company I am searching for, already been bulldozed out of existence without me knowing about it?

On the other side of the road is what looks like an abandoned cotton mill overlooking the Grand Union Canal. On it is a graffiti-emblazoned sign: ‘Fischer Energy: Powering the Future’. Perhaps this firm can help?

Walking through the iron gates a huge garage with shutters looms. I am at the exotically named Frog Island, a run-down industrial estate surrounded by crumbling Victorian buildings and broken windows.

Behind the garage is a modern glass-fronted reception with a Fischer placard. My arrival is met with a stony face and I am told not to move. A receptionist shuts the door on me and turns her back as she whispers into her phone.

Outside are two empty directors’ parking bays – with an electricity point in the centre for recharging vehicles.

Suddenly, surreally, a man who looks like a rock star pops out of the office. He is Tom Nurse, who I soon discover is lead singer of local band The Atlantics. He has a natty haircut and seems to have poured his legs into drainpipe jeans.

He whisks me off to an austere side room and explains he is communications manager for Outfox the Market.

In response to a recent wave of criticism from Outfox customers about woeful customer service and steep increases in direct debit payments (highlighted in The Mail on Sunday), Nurse is reassuring.

He says: ‘Service levels are back to normal. We admit to there being problems before Christmas and apologise for this. We have to adapt to be a sustainable business and we have a bold and brash model like Ryanair that is all about saving customers money.’

He then hands me over to the company’s head of customer relations who shows me a room of 35 staff manning the phones.

Outfox the Market, it transpires, is one of a family of companies owned by local entrepreneurs Keith and Maria Bastian, including Foxglove Energy Supply and Fischer Energy.

Indian-born Keith Bastian is 53 and has lived in Leicester since 1991 with his Spanish wife Maria, also 53.

He was UK sales manager for German heater company Wibo, before quitting in 2010 and setting up his own business supplying heaters. He then bought Fischer, a rival of Wibo. From there, his next step was to branch into energy supply.

Bastian is not frightened to speak his mind, in the past accusing the ‘Big Six’ energy suppliers of ‘acting like monsters’. But what of Outfox?

What the financials show: Outfox is classified by Companies House as a ‘dormant company’ – one not doing any business. Its latest accounts to the end of June 2018 confirm it has assets of just £2.

Of the 15 companies where Keith Bastian is a director and accounts have been filed at Companies House, only one has disclosed a profit – Fischer Future Heat UK.

Customer service: Website energyhelpline currently gives Outfox a star rating of one out of five – its lowest score. Review website Trustpilot is awash with customer complaints – ‘truly a shambles of an energy company’ while unhappy customers have also launched a 1,000-strong protest group on Facebook.

The Mail on Sunday has been inundated with correspondence from unhappy Outfox customers.

Go Effortless

Entered market: September 2013.

Location: Stoke-on-Trent.

What our reporter saw: The Chatterley Whitfield colliery in the Staffordshire city of Stoke-on-Trent is a ghostly ruin from a bygone era – having shut down in 1977.

The historic rusting complex is now fenced off but the colliery office is still open. It is a tired-looking art deco building with 30 offices rented out to small businesses. Go Effortless is among them – others include Wish Upon A Wedding and Laptop House.

The building is deathly quiet with only half a dozen vehicles in the car park. No one answers the door bell for Go Effortless.

A separate ‘reception’ buzzer goes straight to an answer machine. A cleaner eventually comes out of the building for a cigarette break – but will not let me in. He says: ‘I have never heard of the company.’

There is no sign of any back-office operation unless it is underground.

Team work: Go Effortless is run by husband and wife team Andrew and Melanie Burns

Go Effortless is run by husband and wife team Andrew and Melanie Burns. Andrew, 45, has a background in electronics and three degrees to his name.

Melanie, 37, is an accomplished photographer.

The couple were inspired to set up their energy firm after becoming frustrated with the big suppliers.

The couple have a big heart outside of work, supporting a local good cause – the Alice Charity – which aims to help families that are struggling on low incomes.

What the financials show: The company behind Go Effortless is Effortless Energy Limited. Financial accounts for the year to the end of September 2017 show profits of £20,358. The average number of persons employed during the year, including the Burns, was three. Companies House indicates the couple have no other directorships.

Customer service: Energyhelpline gives it two stars out of five – and there are no comments on the Trustpilot website.

Tonik Energy

Entered market: August 2016.

Location: Birmingham.

What our reporter sawTonik Energy’s offices are in Lombard House, Birmingham. As I arrive unannounced, the security guard is not impressed but I am allowed to sit in a large waiting area and enjoy a latte macchiato.

Co-founder Simon Perkins bounds down the stairs in a blue checked shirt. The 38-year-old boss, who in the past has worked for energy supplier Eon, an estate agent and an insurance company, greets me with a winning handshake.

Although obviously put out by my surprise arrival he takes me upstairs to reassure me there is more than a hamster on a wheel running Tonik.

It all looks fashionable – brightly- lit desks surrounded by plants, wooden picket fences and even a picnic rest area all made from recycled materials.

Reassuringly, I see some 30 people busy on phones – though I am told there are 80. Does Mr Perkins suffer from double vision or are there other phone operatives hidden away from view?

He says: ‘We do not wish to be tarred with the same brush as other small energy firms – and we have nothing to hide. This industry is not just about flogging cheap energy.’

Perkins offers a messianic message. He believes his customers can cut their energy usage in half within five years – through much-maligned ‘smart’ energy meters and the provision of different tariff rates according to what time of day or night it is.

He says: ‘Trying to grow fast as a business in this industry is wishful thinking. I have worked 18 years in the energy sector.’

His Apple Watch alarm gives off a piercing ring. What a coincidence. Time for me to say goodbye.

What the financials show: Tonik Energy is a subsidiary of holding company Retig (of which Perkins is a director) as is Locus Energy. In the 18 months to March 25, 2017, Retig incurred pre-tax losses of £1.443 million.

In presenting the accounts in June 2017, it says both subsidiaries have seen growth and will grow sustainably over the next three years.

Customer service: Energy- helpline awards it two stars out of five. Reviews on Trustpilot average four out of five.

Toto Energy

Entered market: September 2016.

Location: Brighton.

What our reporter saw: The bracing sea air sweeps off the English Channel on to Brighton Marina. Situated on the first floor of a massive complex it enjoys panoramic views of the sea and expensive looking yachts.

Operations chief Tom Nicholas directs me inside. Through a glass partition I see some 50 staff manning phones.

Nicholas is unfazed by my unannounced arrival – and is desperate to distance his firm from financially challenged competitors.

He says: ‘Our business plan is to be profitable within three years. I fear there are others out there buying apples for £1 and selling them for 95p to attract new customers.’

He adds: ‘It is a dangerous plan that could end with customers of good energy suppliers picking up the bills for the collapse of other minnow suppliers. Trying to always undercut on price is a race to the bottom.’

Nicholas claims the secret of success – and survival – for firms like his is ‘hedging’.

This is paying up to a year in advance for energy supplies at a fixed price to avoid being hit by higher bills later on, caused perhaps by a sudden hike in demand as a result of a surprise cold snap.

And the name Toto? Nicolas says: ‘We came up with it after a brain storming session – it does not stand for anything. But apparently in Swahili it means baby.’

What the financials show: A note to the accounts for the year to the end of April 2017 state that Toto Energy has ‘elected not to include a copy of the profit and loss account within the financial statements’.

Examination of the company’s profit and loss reserves – accumulated profit or loss – show a loss of £1.146 million. Companies House also confirms a charge on the business (filed in November last year) by energy wholesaler Contract Natural Gas Limited.

Directors of Toto Energy are Christopher Allen, 46 and Paul Fitzgerald, 44. Between them, they have a phalanx of directorships. Allen has ten and Fitzgerald has six.

Customer service: Energyhelpline gives Toto Energy two stars while Trustpilot gives it three. A recent post on Trustpilot talks of ‘shocking customer service and telephone wait times’.

Bulb Energy 

Entered market: August 2015.

Location: London.

What our reporter saw: This energy firm is currently topping best-buy tables. It has attracted almost a million customers since launch.

Bulb is situated in a retro-70s office complex in London’s East End near Brick Lane market. It is all rather trendy as hipsters on laptops discuss start-up business ideas over caffeine-free infusions.

The receptionist – one of four – is surprised when I ask about Bulb. I am told to email the company.

Apparently Bulb staff are too busy to see me so I am left to stew for almost half an hour. Eventually, head of brand Clementine Hobson pitches up.

She is nonplussed about me turning up uninvited, saying: ‘You can email me or the press office, but you cannot talk to anyone now.’

The attractive young manager bats away my questions about Bulb’s finances, simply pointing out it employs 300 staff within the building. Proof, she says, that Bulb is no tin-pot outfit. I am sent packing.

What the financials show: The financials – on paper at least – do not look good. Accounts for the year to the end of March 2018 report pre-tax losses of £23.732 million.

Directors of Bulb Energy are Amit Gudka, 34, and Hayden Wood, 35. Gudka is a former energy market trader for Barclays who outside of work likes to spin records as a part-time DJ. Wood is a former management consultant.

Customer service: Bulb is shining bright, judging by customer reviews. Both Energyhelpline and Trustpilot give it five out of five. ‘Happy with the service and bills are clear,’ says one satisfied customer on Trustpilot.

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Gareth Thomas: The water industry is failing – it’s time to put the public in charge

Margaret Thatcher’s decision 30 years ago to privatize our water industry has created a system which is expensive, unaccountable and unfair. No other country has completely privatized their system of water and sewage services. There is little competition and regulation has been deeply flawed. The consumer voice has carried little weight when up against the interests of distant investors and not surprisingly water bills have rocketed as a result.

Bringing the water industry back into public ownership by mutualizing the industry has long been the ambition of the Co-op party. Indeed, only a change in ownership so that the public are in charge will deliver the shift in priorities to make the water industry fit for the environmental, investment and financial challenges it faces.

The owners of Thames Water have particularly exploited their monopoly position. In the ten years to 2016 Thames Water’s shareholders paid themselves £1.6bn in dividends, ran up a pension deficit of £260m, loaded Thames Water with £10bn of debt and regularly paid zero corporation tax. In 2017 Thames Water was ranked 23rd out of 23 water companies for customer satisfaction according to, the Water Watchdog, The Consumer Council for Water. According to their own performance report for 2017/18 Thames are failing to meet basic targets in 17 out of 41 key areas.

Research by the Open University suggests that the owners took more in dividends from Thames Water than it actually earned from its income from its consumers over the last decade. Dividends, debt and the pension deficit weren’t the only things to increase in this period – customer bills and the number of complaints went up too.

Thames Water should be converted into a mutual, operating in the private sector but owned by its consumers and its employees. Thames Water would be jointly owned by a consumer trust and an Employee trust to share ownership of the new mutual company which would be limited by guarantee, similar to Glas Cymru who provide water in Wales.

Public ownership can take many forms but a mutual model, building on the success of what has worked in Wales and some of the lessons of the industry before privatisation would ensure Thames Water is well-resourced, accountable and effective.

Mutualising the water industry would also not require taxpayer money to be diverted from funding public services into buying out the current owners of water companies.

One of the key arguments used to bring in privatisation was that companies would deliver new investment. The government of the day cancelled all the former nationalised industries debts to help and huge sums have over the last 30 years have been borrowed, but it is questionable whether that has led to more investment than there would otherwise have been.

All of the investment in tackling leaks and improving water supply could have been covered using the resources garnered by customer bills suggesting that the debt on water companies’ books is at least in part delivering tax and dividend benefits for shareholders rather than new investment to help tackle leaks and improve services.

Mutuals would still be able to borrow for investment taking away one of the arguments opponents of reform would inevitably use to argue against public ownership and for reprivatisation.

Increasing the powers of Ofwat to reduce dividends, increase investment and put the consumers first would transform the ownership of the water industry delivering public ownership at no cost to the taxpayer and making re-privatisation much less likely.

The water industry needs reform. But if the reform is to be meaningful a change in ownership to put consumers and employees in the driving seat is essential.

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EU regulators to rule on RWE’s Innogy breakup deal by Feb. 26

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – EU antitrust regulators will decide by Feb. 26 whether to wave through German utility RWE’s (RWEG.DE) breakup of its networks and renewables unit Innogy (IGY.DE) with the assets to be divided between RWE and E.ON (EONGn.DE).

RWE said on Tuesday it had sought European Commission approval for the deal with the aim of completing the transaction in the second half of 2019.

The EU competition enforcer confirmed the request. It can either clear the deal after the preliminary review with or without conditions or open a five-month long investigation if it has serious concerns.

Innogy is Germany’s largest energy group by market valuation while RWE, Germany’s largest electricity producer, would become Europe’s third-largest renewable player after Spain’s Iberdrola (IBE.MC) and Italy’s Enel (ENEI.MI).

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National Grid says “distributed resource desk” will give a big boost to smaller generators

National Grid’s electricity control room introduced a new ‘Distributed Resource’ Desk on 23 January that enables power system engineers to give instructions much faster to smaller generators, battery storage operators, and demand side response providers – in the first 24 hours of operation, the number of bids and offers accepted by the control room from these aggregated providers was 87MWh, up 113% on average.

As the Electricity System Operator (ESO) the control room receives bids and offers daily from generators detailing the amount of power they can provide, the time they can provide it, and at what price. The control room accept or reject these bids based on what is needed to manage the network, while always opting for least cost, where it can.

Last year the system operator says it reached a significant milestone when it opened up the GB Balancing Mechanism Market, to enable small generators, battery storage and demand side response providers to compete with larger power plants to offer power and services to the grid.

Aggregators such as Limejump and Flexitricity act on behalf of several energy providers whose power in isolation is small but in total (or aggregated) meets the requirement for entry into the GB Balancing Mechanism Market. In combination, these providers have 52 Megawatts (MW) of power available within the GB Balancing Mechanism Market.

Staff managing the distributed resource desk focus entirely on optimising the use of these new assets and help them develop their capabilities to keep facilitating the growth of the market. By April 2019, National Grid expects market growth in this area will be up 179% to 145MWs, made up of batteries, combined heat and power, demand side response and gas reciprocating engines (heat power).

Claire Spedding, Balancing Programme Director, for National Grid Electricity System Operator said:

“I am delighted that, after facilitating the access of a number of new parties into the Balancing Mechanism Market last year, we are now able to take this next exciting step forwards. Putting a dedicated ‘Distributed Resource’ desk into the control room means we can create expertise in really understanding how these assets can contribute to balancing the nation’s electricity system.”

This development comes at a time when National Grid is in the final stages of preparations for transitioning to a legally separate system operator from 1 April 2019. Through legal separation, it says it is creating a trusted, impartial Electricity System Operator (ESO) that will make it easier for a wider range and variety of customers to connect to the network. During this transition, it’s critical that the ESO business continues to operate the electricity system safely and securely.

Claire added, “Who would think that a community energy scheme with a back-up generator in the North East, or a battery in the East Midlands could be helping you make a cup of tea when you get home from work in Reading?”

Responding, Hannah Smith, Senior Policy Manager at Scottish Renewables, said: “Small-scale renewable energy assets, energy storage, and demand side response all play a key role in delivering the smart system we need to tackle climate change and keep costs low for consumers.

“We welcome the move by National Grid to create a dedicated ‘Distributed Resource’ desk, which will help make the most of the benefits these assets bring to our electricity network.

“To reap the full benefits, it is crucial that the full suite of renewable energy technologies, at all scales, are able to offer services on a level playing field to other system assets.

“Renewable energy provides continue to face significant market uncertainty. Industry has no clear sight of the level of compensation small-scale electricity generators will receive for putting energy onto the grid, and a series of reforms to charging practices could prove damaging to the sector.

“We would encourage government, Ofgem and others to follow National Grid ESO’s lead and recognise the value of these assets in reducing emissions, reducing costs to consumers and balancing the nation’s electricity system.”

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Ofgem protects customers of failed supplier Our Power

Ofgem protects customers of failed supplier Our Power

Publication date

25th January 2019
Information types

Policy areas

Our Power, an energy supplier with about 31,000 domestic customers, has ceased to trade.

Under Ofgem’s safety net, the energy supply of Our Power’s customers will continue and pre payment meters can be topped up as normal. The outstanding credit balances of domestic customers will be protected.

Ofgem will choose a new supplier to take on Our Power’s customers as quickly as possible. This supplier will contact these customers shortly after being appointed.

Ofgem’s advice to Our Power’s customers in the meantime is:

  • Do not switch to another energy supplier.
  • Take a meter reading ready for when your new supplier contacts you.

This will make the process of transferring customers over to the chosen supplier, and paying back their outstanding credit balances, as smooth as possible.

Philippa Pickford, Ofgem’s director for future retail markets, said:

“Our message to energy customers with Our Power is there is no need to worry, as under our safety net we will make sure your energy supplies are secure and your credit balance is protected.”

“Ofgem will now choose a new supplier for you, ensuring you get the best deal possible. Whilst we’re doing this our advice is to ‘sit tight’ and don’t switch. You can rely on your energy supply as normal. We will update you when we have chosen a new supplier, who will then get in touch about your new tariff.”

“We have seen a number of supplier failures over the last year and our safety net procedures are working as they should to protect customers.”

Updates are available from our website or through our twitter feed @ofgem.

Customers who have questions should visit the FAQs on our website. Or if they need additional support, call Citizens Advice on 03454 04 05 06 or email them via their webform. Alternatively, get in touch through Ofgem’s facebook or twitter feed @ofgem.

Notes to editors

  • Our Power’s customers should take meter readings today and wait until their new supplier contacts them. Once they’ve been contacted, customers can ask to be put on their new supplier’s cheapest deal or shop around for a better deal from another supplier. They won’t be charged exit fees for switching away from their new supplier.
  • Customers with prepayment meters will be able to continue to top up as normal.  Our Power or the new supplier will contact customers to ensure they are informed of any changes to arrangements for pre payment customers.
  • Ofgem’s safety net will make sure customers will always have an energy supply, credit balances are protected and that the process in moving over to the appointed supplier is as smooth and hassle free as possible.

Further information

For media, contact:

Chris Lock: 0207 901 7225

Media out of hours mobile: 07766 511470 (media calls only)

About Ofgem

Ofgem is the independent energy regulator for Great Britain. Its priority is to make a positive difference for consumers by promoting competition in the energy markets and regulating networks.

For facts, figures and information about Ofgem’s work, see Energy facts and figuresor visit the Ofgem Data Portal.

For energy insights and updates straight to your inbox from Ofgem, please subscribe.

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CCWater remains concerned by Bristol Water complaints

Bristol Water has more work to do to reduce the number of complaints it receives from its customers, the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) has warned.

Bristol Water was one of three suppliers – including Southern Water and Surrey-based SES Water – challenged over their poor performance during 2017/18.

In the first six months of the 2018/19 financial year, Southern Water saw a 32 per cent reduction in written complaints and 34 per cent drop in telephone complaints, while the number of phone complaints to SES Water fell by 15 per cent and written complaints by more than a third.

However, while Bristol Water has also been able to substantially reduce the number of telephone complaints, the number of written complaints rose by just over 1 per cent.

David Heath CBE, western chair for the Consumer Council for Water, said: “As it stands, Bristol Water remains in a poor position when it comes to customer complaints and that needs to change.

“We recognise the company has taken steps to try and improve the way it engages with customers, particularly on social media, but we need to see evidence those changes are reducing complaint numbers.”

In September, CCWater’s annual report revealed that Bristol Water had seen the largest rise in complaints of any water company in England and Wales during 2017/18, and the watchdog has now requested further updates on its complaint handling until significant improvements are made.

Ben Newby, Bristol Water’s chief customer officer, said: “We’re pleased that we have seen an 18 per cent drop in total complaints for this year so far compared to the same period last year.

“We appreciate there is still work for us to do on written complaints. Since last year’s CCWater report, we introduced changes to how we handle customer experience, such as introducing a customer care team and a new delivery model for our streetworks, which has resulted in zero written complaints for these teams.

“We are currently forecasting a 16 per cent drop in written complaints by the end of this year and a 26 per cent reduction in complaints overall. We also note in CC Water’s report that our complaint handling is one of the best in the industry with less than 1 per cent being referred to them.

“We continue to work with CCWater on improving our customer’s experience with us and thank them for their continued scrutiny on this area.”

The watchdog also told Southern Water there is no room for complacency despite its improved showing, although Sir Tony Redmond, CCWater’s London and South East chair, added: “We are cautiously optimistic the company can finally improve its standing in the industry.”

Southern Water’s chief customer officer, Simon Oates, said: “We’re really proud of the improvements we’ve made in customer satisfaction and the reduction in customer complaints that have come on the back of our transformation programme. It’s a programme that’s been focused on, making it easier for customers to contact us when they need to and giving them a broader range of channels, such as online services to make that contact in the first place.

“It’s clear to see that it’s been working, and as a result of the reduction in complaints, customer satisfaction has gone up. When we look at our position among other water companies in our sector, we’ve gone from propping up the industry league tables just two years ago to being middle of the pack this year.

“But we know we need to do more. We submitted our business plan to Ofwat which outlines how we plan to improve the total service we give to our customers across the board while also reducing bills. We want to continue improving so we can deliver the everyday service we know our customers want, expect and deserve.”

Redmond also said that SES Water’s improved figures “give us reason for optimism” but added: “SES Water remains a long way from where we would like it to be compared to rest of the industry.

“We want to see further improvements over the next few months.”

SES Water is currently halfway through a transformation programme to improve the experience its customers receive, which involves fundamental changes to systems and processes and investing heavily in its employees.

Since the programme started last January, SES Water has seen its complaints fall by almost 45 per cent between April 2018 and the previous year and said it is on track to achieve almost a 20 per cent reduction in unwanted contacts by March 2019 compared to the previous year.

Dan Lamb, head of retail services at SES Water, said: “We want the most satisfied customers in the country so providing high-quality service and reducing complaints is very important to us.

“We are now at a three-year low of 9.5 complaints per 10,000 properties and during 2018 we reduced complaints by 39 per cent and saw a 17 per cent reduction in unwanted contacts.

“The improvements we are making have also seen us increase our position in the Service Incentive Mechanism (SIM) league table this year and achieve our highest ever billing score. In our business plan for 2020 to 2025, we aim to go even further and achieve upper quartile C-MeX performance by building on all the good work we’re already doing.”

Author: Robin Hackett, Deputy Editor, WWT and WET News
Topic: Policy & Regulation
Tags: Consumer Council for Water , CCWater , Bristol Water , Southern Water , SES Water , complaints

The sun rises behind electricity pylons near Chester, northern England October 24, 2011. REUTERS/Phil Noble

EDF weighing up retreat from energy market in UK Save

Energy company EDF has rejected claims that it intends to ‘retreat’ from the the UK energy market due to Westminster government energy market policies.

Media reports claimed last week that the French company was “weighing options to distance itself from the British energy market”.

But today, EDF Energy denied the claims, and reiterated its rejection of the reports.

EDF Renewables is a partner in Lewis Wind Power (LWP), the company behind the proposed Stornoway Wind Farm development, and any move to leave the UK energy market could raise concerns over the future of that project.

A statement issued by EDF, said: “EDF is more committed than ever to the UK market and to strengthening its ­existing retail business.”

French company EDF is currently building two new nuclear power reactors at Hinkley Point C in Somerset, and is a retail supplier of gas and electric to UK’s domestic and business markets.

A statement from the Comhairle, which is working with The Stornoway Trust to maximise the community return on LWP’s proposed Stornoway Wind Farm, confirmed that the development was progressing its bid for government funds.

The Comhairle’s statement said: “On 25th January the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy issued the Draft Allocation Framework for the Third Contracts for Difference (CfD) Allocation Round.

This shows Remote Island Wind as an eligible technology category. Lewis Wind Power, in which EDF is a partner, will be bidding into that CfD auction.”

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British taxpayers face £24bn bill for tax relief to oil and gas firms

NAO report reveals cost of removing hundreds of North Sea wells, rigs and pipelines

British taxpayers face a £24bn bill for tax relief awarded to oil and gas companies removing hundreds of North Sea wells, rigs and pipelines, the UK public spending watchdog has said.

The National Audit Office (NAO) said the figure would climb if companies collapse and are unable to pay for cleaning up their operations, leaving the government to pick up the tab.

The industry has contributed more than £300bn in tax revenues to the Treasury since the 1960s. North Sea production peaked in the mid-1980s and the late 1990s, and has been declining ever since.

Tax revenue peaked at about 3% of GDP during the 1980s, but slumped as output from the region declined. A combination of low oil prices and decommissioning costs resulted in the industry becoming a net drain on the government purse for the first time in 2016.

The NAO, in report on the cost of decommissioning the region’s oil and gas fields, said the Treasury faced a £24bn bill because of tax arrangements.

About half of the figure comes from decommissioning reducing companies’ taxable profits, with the rest from tax reliefs based on the large sums of tax paid historically. Those reliefs allow companies to offset decommissioning costs against revenue, cutting the amount of tax they pay on their profits.

The vast majority of the costs will land over the next 20 years, with a small amount falling as late as the 2060s.

However, the watchdog warned the £24bn estimate was “highly uncertain” as it relied on factors that are hard to predict, such as future oil prices.

The bill could also be bigger if oil and gas companies become insolvent, leaving the government liable for clean-up costs.

“Taxpayers are ultimately liable for the total cost of decommissioning assets that operators cannot decommission,” the NAO said.

The report revealed there have already been cases of companies defaulting on their clean-up obligations. The Treasury had to pay out £5.4m in 2016 and £45m in 2017 for decommissioning because of unnamed companies not meeting the costs.

Decommissioning involves everything from plugging old wells to removing the miles of pipelines on the seabed in the region.

The industry has been a set a target of reducing the total costs of decommissioning – pegged at £59.7bn in 2017 – by 35% in three years’ time.

However, decommissioning experts said the target is very ambitious.

The Oil and Gas Authority, the industry regulator, has rejected freedom of information requests by the Guardian seeking to discover how many decommissioning projects are coming in on budget, on the grounds the data is commercially sensitive.

Labour said the government needed to rethink changes last year that allow buyers of oil and gas fields to inherit the seller’s tax relief.

Clive Lewis, the shadow Treasury minister, said: “The obvious issue looming over all of this is the climate emergency. We know we need to urgently be ending the UK’s reliance on fossil fuels, not offering yet more tax breaks for big oil companies.”

Much of the regulation requiring companies to remove oil and gas structures stems from the response to the 1995 proposal by Shell to sink the Brent Sparoil storage platform in the North Sea. The plan was abandoned after widespread protests by environmentalists.

Decommissioning experts said to meet cost targets, more infrastructure may in future need to be left in the North Sea.

“One way of spending 35% less is doing 35% less. If the public purse is getting involved, we owe the public to look at it and not to dismiss it out of hand,” one industry source said.

The trade body Oil and Gas UK said it was “wholly committed” to making decommissioning cost-effective and environmentally responsible.

The government said it was working to reduce costs. “By providing tax relief on decommissioning, we are attracting continued investment into our reserves – supporting jobs, boosting the economy and protecting our energy supply,” a spokesperson said.

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