Misled energy customer who fell into €500 arrears has complaint upheld

Misled energy customer who fell into €500 arrears has complaint upheld

The CRU has warned consumers of a large influx of complaints related to 'fixed-price contracts'. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA

An energy customer who said she was misled over what the price of her bills would be before falling into arrears of €500 had her complaint upheld by the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU).

The CRU has warned consumers of a large influx of complaints related to “fixed-price contracts”.

In its 2021 Customer Care Annual Report, the CRU said that it received a 51% increase in contacts through its customer care service, which acts as a dispute resolution service between the utility companies and the consumer.

It said it closed 186 “complex” energy complaints in 2021, with 32% upheld in favour of the customer. Complex complaints happen when a customer has exhausted the supplier’s complaints process.

A further 204 complex complaints involving energy suppliers or energy network companies were received in 2021, a rise of 14%.

Billing and account problems continue to account for the majority of customer complaints, at 50% and 26%, respectively.

Complaints relating to fixed versus variable-rate contracts, early termination fees, and issues with pay-as-you-go services are emerging, it said.

Misled

In the case mentioned above, a woman signed up to a two-year contract with a supplier following a doorstep call. She said she was advised that the plan allowed her to pay a set monthly amount for unlimited usage. Based on her historic usage, that figure was determined to be €55 a month.

After a few months, this increased to €86 and then €110. She was assured by the supplier that she did not owe an additional amount. 

Later that year, the supplier’s business was purchased by a second company, and this company advised the customer that arrears of €500 had built up as her payments weren’t covering her usage.

She lodged a complaint for false advertising and knowingly allowing the account to run into arrears. 

The CRU noted that the Ts&Cs of her plan did allow for monthly payments to increase or decrease based on usage and estimations. Her new supplier offered a sum of money to the customer and a payment plan for her arrears.

Caution urged

The CRU said: “Customers need to be very careful in terms of ‘fixed-price’ contracts; always check the terms and conditions, as in many instances the rates are not, in fact, fixed and can be subject to change.” 

By company, it said that the contact level from customers of Electric Ireland (19%) was notably lower than its market share of 43%. On the other hand, the level of contacts from Bord Gáis Energy customers (28%) was higher than its market share of 21%.

Elsewhere, the CRU reported 374 customer contacts in relation to Irish Water, an increase of 56% from 2020. It investigated and closed 18 complex complaints related to Irish Water last year, 44% of which were upheld in favour of the consumer.

CRU chairwoman Aoife MacEvilly said: “[The increase in contacts last year] is likely to have been driven by increased awareness of our customer protection role as customers deal with the challenge of increased energy costs and see the impact on their bills.”

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