Northern Isles representatives Alistair Carmichael MP and Beatrice Wishart MSP have written to Ofgem to seek an urgent meeting to address steep energy price rises and poor customer service from suppliers.
Following a call for public views, Mr Carmichael and Ms Wishart received representations from numerous constituents frustrated with energy price increases and difficulties getting in touch with providers to address billing issues. Mr Carmichael and Ms Wishart are now asking the energy regulator to tackle “energy increases over and above the rate of inflation, staggering billing issues and appalling levels of misinformation.”
The letter highlights some examples:
- An elderly couple received a bill in July 2020 stating they owed £845 for the period April to July. For comparison, the bill for the same period in 2018 was £387 – despite only using a single radiator in their home for heating.
- A constituent’s meter readings were mis-entered into a supplier billing system by a representative, thereby creating a huge yet erroneous bill for nearly £4,000.
- A constituent received a letter stating their Direct Debit would increase fivefold, with only two weeks’ notice. They constituent could not afford such an increase and the company later admitted that the letter was sent out automatically, despite there being a vulnerability marker on the constituent’s account.
Mr Carmichael and Ms Wishart write:
“These huge increases have very real consequences for our constituents. We have received reports of people switching off their hot water heaters completely, turning down their storage heaters, making do with one storage heater to heat an entire house, and relying on hot water bottles and blankets. One constituent even told us they had to turn off the heating completely during the summer to save money”
Commenting Mr Carmichael said:
“Feeling overcharged for electricity and heating is all too familiar to people in the isles but even by those standards the stories we have received from constituents this year are outrageous. It is small wonder we are still facing down the scourge of fuel poverty when energy providers are acting in this manner.
“We will be putting the case to Ofgem that island communities cannot be treated in the same way as any other part of the UK. Geographical challenges and lack of competition make it harder for islanders to get a fair deal – and that is where the regulator must play its part.”
Ms Wishart said:
“The stories we’ve heard from constituents are appalling. Billing errors and misinformation from providers is unacceptable and causing real worry, especially for vulnerable customers. Poor service and price hikes are on top of fuel poverty that is already a real concern serious issue in the isles and that must be addressed. While we’ve engaged directly with the companies at fault it is very clear that there are wider issues Ofgem needs to step in and tackle.
“Please do continue to get in touch if you would like to share your story or would like help and advice in raising issues with your provider.”