Regulators upheld one in three complaints against energy companies last year, when bills continued to be the main source of customers’ problems, official figures show.
The Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU), which oversees power companies and Irish Water, said that it opened 179 investigations into “complex complaints” against energy suppliers last year, 37 per cent less than in 2019.
The regulator upheld 33 per cent of these complaints following investigations into each.
According to a statement, billing and account problems produced most customer complaints in 2020.
The CRU said that Flogas and Panda Power had the highest number of complaints per 10,000 customers, although the regulator conceded that these companies had relatively small shares of the market.
Pinergy and Iberdrola had the lowest number, with the CRU recording zero complex complaints against them.
Almost half the complaints resulted from “bill shock”, according to the regulator.
This is where customers are billed for an actual meter reading following a period of months where the energy company involved has estimated the amount due.
Where these estimates fall short of the amount of electricity a customer uses, the meter read results in a sharply increased “catch-up” bill.
Regular meter readings
The CRU advised customers to provide regular meter readings to suppliers to and to check their energy bills to ensure that they are not hit with unexpectedly big bills.
CRU chairwoman Aoife MacEvilly said Covid-19 restrictions on meter reading heightened the problem last year.
“As we roll out smart electricity meters, we should see a reduction in estimated bills but in the meantime, we would encourage customers to regularly submit meter readings and carefully read their bills in order to avoid this issue,” she said.
Ms MacEvilly added that the commission provided consumers with an independent, free resolution service. Its decision are legally biding on power companies.
Electricity and gas customers can go the CRU where they are not happy with the way their supplier has dealt with their complaint in the first place.
The number of complaints investigated was the lowest since the CRU was established in 2008.
The commission suggested the fall was due to Covid-19, as complaint numbers rose consistently between 2016 and 2019.
Covid-19 lockdowns prompted the regulator to introduce several protections for customers, including a temporary halt to domestic disconnections and an increase in the emergency credit available on pay-as-you-go gas meters.
The regulator received 240 complaints from Irish Water customers last year, most relating to billing and accounts. The utility charges businesses for water, but not households.