Category Archives: Consumer Issues

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CAB News 15 March 2019

Friday 15 March 2019

Today we have published our energy star rating. It has appeared in a number of outlets.

National

More small and newer energy suppliers delivering poor customer service – charity

ITV.com, 15/03/2019

Citizens Advice has called for tighter licensing rules for new energy companies after finding an increasing number are delivering poor customer service.

The charity’s latest energy league table shows five new or smaller energy suppliers – Outfox The Market, Eversmart Energy, PFP Energy, Pure Planet and iSupply – all achieved an overall score of less than two out of five.

Citizens Advice said the ranking, which covers 99% of the market and assesses data from 35 firms, combined with recent supplier failures highlighted the need for Ofgem to tighten the rules on who can get a licence to supply energy. It is also calling on the regulator to crack down on poorly performing firms already in the market.

The star rating was also mentioned on BBC Breakfast, followed by an interview with Ofgem.

Energy bills: ”I don’t know who to trust”

BBC, 15/03/2019

BBC spoke to Citizens Advice case study Paul Bailey who has switched energy supplier twice at his new home, and twice he has had trouble with his bills.

Having moved to a new supplier – Outfox the Market – he was left confused by a string of price changes. “Their customer service was all over the place,” said the 50-year-old, from East Sussex. “I don’t know who to trust with it all now.”

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “We have seen too many companies who were completely unprepared to offer acceptable levels of service. A number of these have gone out of business in recent months, leaving customers worried, anxious and in some cases temporarily out of pocket.”

Profiling the 11 UK energy companies that ceased trading in the past 12 months

Compelo, 12/03/2019

In the wake of Brilliant Energy announcing it has ceased to trade, Compelo has profiled energy suppliers that have also recently gone under. The article mentions Citizens Advice star rating.

Brilliant Energy joins list of failed UK power and gas utilities

FT.com (subscription required), 11/03/2019

Brilliant Energy has become the latest UK energy supplier to fold in a further sign that many smaller providers are not equipped to cope with market volatility.

Brilliant, which supplied around 17,000 customers, ceased trading on Monday, becoming the third to do so this year and the 11th since January 2018 — not including a further four that quit the market last year through corporate transactions.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “The failure of another supplier is a clear sign Ofgem needs to urgently move forward with its reforms to better monitor existing companies and take action earlier when problems arise.”

This story was also in the Mail Online.

We need urgent law reform to protect customers, says Citizen Advice boss

Mail Online UK, 09/03/2019

Gillian Guy provided comment for the Mail on Sunday explaining that Citizens Advice sees “hundreds of people every year who have lost money from being trapped in subscriptions they don’t want and find difficult to cancel.”

She continues that: “Laws surrounding subscriptions need to be reformed urgently to stop firms being able to take advantage of their customers.” and that the government needs to act urgently and companies responsibly.

She states that continuous payment authorities are a huge issue and the laws around these need to be tightened. Companies that offer free trials should also have to seek your permission before that trial ends and they begin charging you.

JEFF PRESTRIDGE: We’ll NEVER stop fighting on your behalf

Mail Online UK, 09/03/2019

Personal Finance Editor, Jeff Prestridge thanks readers for getting in contact regarding continuous payment authorities. The Mail on Sunday makes demands for reforms and feels that they “would not be difficult to introduce,” continuing that “the only obstacle is one of intransigence on behalf of regulators, companies and banks.”

Citizens Advice, alongside other “consumer champions,” supports these demands. The article provides advice for consumers as well as a template letter they can use to send to companies using these practices.

Regional

CITIZENS ADVICE BUREAU COLUMN: Can I be dismissed for being pregnant?

Westmorland Gazette, 14/03/2019

The article provides advice for a pregnant woman who has recently been laid off. She suspects that she was fired due to being pregnant.

The column advises: “However long you’ve been employed, being fired because of pregnancy is automatically classed as unfair dismissal. Although your employer said you were being sacked for poor performance, you’re right to be suspicious. Ask for written reasons.”

You can find March’s template advice column on CAB Link.

In other news

Schools have become “an unofficial fourth emergency service” for vulnerable families across England and Wales.

More than 100 care home operators collapsed in 2018, taking the total over five years to more than 400.

Universal credit claimants should be compensated if their benefits are paid late or promised training and skills courses are not delivered, conservative thinktank Bright Blue has recommended.


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Increasing numbers of small and newer energy suppliers delivering poor customer service

Friday 15 March 2019

More small and newer energy suppliers are failing to meet decent standards of customer service, according to Citizens Advice’s latest energy star rating league table.

The charity believes these latest figures and recent supplier failures further highlight the need for Ofgem to tighten the rules on who can get a licence to supply energy. It is also calling on the regulator to crack down on poorly performing firms already in the market.

The latest rankings show 5 energy suppliers – Outfox The Market, Eversmart Energy, PFP Energy, Pure Planet and iSupply – achieving an overall score of less than 2 out of 5.

The results (for the period October to December 2018) cover 99% of the market and assess data from 35 gas and electricity supply firms. In the previous 3 months (July to September 2018) just one company scored less than 2 stars out of 5.

At the top end of the table, 21 of the 35 firms evaluated now score at least 3 out of 5 stars. This is up from 19 companies out of 34 last time.

  • So Energy holds onto its place at the top of the table for the fifth successive quarter.

  • SSE is second with 4.4 stars and the highest placed of the ‘Big 6’ suppliers.

  • Npower has the lowest ranking of the ‘Big 6’, in 18th place with a score of 3.15.

Increasing direct debits, tariff changes and contact problems

Citizens Advice has helped customers of suppliers at the bottom of the table and identified some particular issues:

  • Outfox The Market: direct debits increasing without explanation and customers unable to contact them to discuss.

  • Eversmart Energy: unexpected changes in tariffs and direct debits.

  • PFP Energy: direct debits increasing and large unexpected bills.

Tighter licensing rules and better monitoring needed

Citizens Advice is calling on the regulator, Ofgem, to make a number of changes to protect customers:

  • Introduce stronger requirements to become a supplier, including ensuring the management team are fit and proper.

  • Once suppliers enter the market, they should be subject to tougher ongoing monitoring, backed up by swift compliance and enforcement action.

  • Reduce the cost of suppliers exiting the market. Supplier failures in the past year alone have left an estimated £160 million in costs like unpaid industry bills that other customers have to pay.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“We have seen too many companies who were completely unprepared to offer acceptable levels of service. A number of these have gone out of business in recent months, leaving customers worried, anxious and in some cases temporarily out of pocket.

“The regulator needs to take urgent action by tightening rules around supplier licences, monitoring existing firms more closely and enforcing standards where these aren’t met.”

“Choosing a new energy supplier can be tricky for many people. Our star rating can help people make more informed choices about switching, not just going for the cheapest tariff.”

Citizens Advice price comparison site

To support customers to save money on their energy bills, Citizens Advice, the official consumer champion for energy, also provides an independent price comparison site.

Full table:

Supplier

Star rating October to December 2018

So Energy

4.5

SSE

4.4

Engie

4.15

EDF Energy

4.15

Igloo Energy

4.1

Bristol Energy

4.05

Octopus Energy

3.95

Utility Warehouse

3.95

Bulb Energy

3.75

British Gas

3.65

Green Network Energy

3.55

E (Gas and Electricity)

3.45

ScottishPower

3.45

First Utility

3.4

Ovo Energy

3.35

E.ON

3.25

Ecotricity

3.15

npower

3.15

Co-Operative Energy

3.05

Tonik Energy

3.05

Good Energy

3

Utility Point

2.95

Flow Energy

2.8

Avro Energy

2.7

Robin Hood Energy

2.45

Together Energy

2.4

Green Star Energy

2.3

Utilita

2.2

TOTO Energy

2.2

Solarplicity

2.15

iSupply

1.95

Pure Planet

1.95

PFP Energy

1.85

Eversmart Energy

1.6

Outfox The Market

1.3


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Brilliant Energy customers’ supply to continue as normal, but Ofgem must “urgently move forward” with supplier reforms, says Citizens Advice

Friday 15 March 2019

Citizens Advice, in its role as the official consumer champion for energy, has responded to news that Brilliant Energy Supply Limited has ceased trading. Brilliant Energy also supplied customers of Northumbria Energy under a ‘white label’ arrangement.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“Brilliant Energy and Northumbria Energy customers’ gas and electricity will continue as normal and Ofgem will appoint a new supplier soon. Customers should take a meter reading and wait until a new supplier is appointed before switching, otherwise they risk losing any potential refunds.

“The failure of another supplier is a clear sign Ofgem needs to urgently move forward with its reforms to better monitor existing companies and take action earlier when problems arise.

Consumer advice contact

Customers can find more information on the Ofgem or Citizens Advice websites. Customers unsure of their next steps can contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06. Please note, this service operates Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.


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Avro Energy’s failure to join DCC leaves it “unprepared” for SMETS2 rollout, says Citizens Advice

Friday 15 March 2019

Citizens Advice, in its role as the official consumer champion for energy, has welcomed Ofgem’s decision issue Avro Energy with a final order for breaching the requirement to become a Data Communications Company (DCC) user.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“Engaging with the DCC is essential for the roll out of second generation smart meters (SMETS2). Avro’s failure to join the DCC means it’s unprepared for that rollout, leaving its customers with first generation meters (SMETS1) that lose smart functionality if they switch suppliers. Suppliers shouldn’t risk consumer confidence in the programme by giving their customers a sub-par experience.

“Smart meters are critical for the long term development of our energy infrastructure and it is vital that we get it right. There have been substantial delays to the rollout and costs are escalating. The government needs to publish a new cost-benefit analysis at the earliest opportunity.”


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CAB News 08 March 2019

Image result for financial conduct authority price cap

Friday 08 March 2019

The press continued to cover our response to the Financial Conduct Authority’s announcement of a price cap on rent-to-own schemes for household goods such as fridges, cookers and televisions.

National

End of the rent-to-own rip-off? City watchdog brings in price cap to protect thousands of vulnerable customers

Mail Online, 05/03/2019,Grace Gausden

The Mail Online said Citizens Advice helps around 5,000 people a year with rent-to-own issues.

The FCA’s announcement of a price cap on these agreements should save consumers millions of pounds a year. The new measure should protect vulnerable customers and stop people paying more in interest than the original cost of the item.

Gillian Guy told the Mail Online: “This cap, which we’ve campaigned for, is a win for those struggling with the runaway costs of rent-to-own agreements. We’re delighted it will now be introduced.”

The story was also covered in City A.M.

Price cap on BrightHouse style rent-to-own firms to finally kick in next month

Mirror, 05/03/2019, Emma Munbodh

The FCA has confirmed a price cap to protect some of the most vulnerable customers in the UK in the rent-to-own sector.

Gillian Guy said: “The FCA has recognised the massive harm caused by the crippling interest rates on rent-to-own deals. This cap will stop people from paying over the odds compared to similar products on the high street and falling into further debt when costs spiral out of control.”

“Our evidence has repeatedly shown well-designed caps can reduce the harm high-cost credit can cause. Where these credit products cause more harm than good, for example doorstep loans, the FCA should move to introduce similar protections.”

Our statement also appeared in The Sun.

Regional

Universal Credit

Over 1,400 people turn to Citizens Advice Harrogate and Craven for help with Universal Credit

Stray FM, 07/03/2019

Sue Royston from Citizens Advice Harrogate and Craven has been researching the impact of Universal Credit in the area. She gave an interview to Stray FM, and the story also appeared on the station’s website.

Sue said: “There are lots of hidden problems. It was designed to be a simple system but I don’t think even attention was paid to the way people go through the system. As a result there’s lots of snags and pitfalls that can catch people out.”

It’s Just Not Fair claim Citizens Advice

Uckfield FM, 02/03/2019

Citizens Advice East Sussex have published a report on the experiences of their clients claiming Personal Independence Payments and Employment Support Allowance.

Kay Birch, Chief Executive of Wealden Citizens Advice said: “The treatment some of our clients have experienced is truly shocking. Medical assessors completing assessments before they have even seen the client; a housebound client relying on oxygen being expected to travel to his assessment centre on public transport carrying an oxygen cylinder with him… Without the ongoing support of local Food Banks, many of our clients would not have been able to cope.”

The report proposes a number of recommendations and has been sent to all MPs in the county.

Are you worried about Universal Credit? Citizens Advice is here to help

Nottingham Post, 01/03/2019

For many people in Nottinghamshire, the change to Universal Credit can be “bewildering,” and in an effort to help claimants, all six Citizens Advice offices in the area have launched a service called Help to Claim.

Trish Eaton, Chief Officer of Nottingham and District Citizens Advice, said: “Universal Credit is now rolled out across the country and we know people have been struggling with the system. We’re now offering a new Help to Claim service that will help people complete their application so they can get paid on time and in full. Our advisers are here to offer impartial advice and support to anyone who may need help with the process.”

Universal Credit – how you can make your payments manageable

Plymouth Herald, 03/03/2019

Citizens Advice Plymouth’s Sharon Burt, a debt and financial capability adviser reports that around 15 per cent of the problems over the past year that they have dealt with have been about Universal Credit.

Sharon shares a number of her top tips when making a claim for Universal Credit, which include not delaying your application and gathering all the relevant information before making it.

In other news

NHS: public satisfaction with health service ‘hits 11-year low’.

Amber Rudd admits disabled people feel “put on trial for seeking support.” The work and pensions secretary says she wants to leave language of ‘scroungers and shirkers’ in the past.

Average council tax bills in England will increase by 4.5% a year from April, reaching more than £1,800 in some regions.

The government’s universal credit benefits system is “ruining lives” with burdensome red tape for people with mental health issues, a report has warned.

 


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Rent-to-own cap a win for people paying over the odds, Citizens Advice says

Friday 08 March 2019

The FCA’s announcement it will cap the cost of rent-to-own goods from 1 April 2019 will help the hundreds of thousands of people who use the high-interest agreements, Citizens Advice says.

The charity helps approximately 5,000 people a year with rent-to-own issues. It has also welcomed the decision by the regulator to place restrictions on other charges, including late payment fees.

Last year, research from Citizens Advice found that people who were at the time signed up to a rent-to-own agreement could save £62 million over the payment period on 245,000 products if a cap was enforced.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“This cap, which we’ve campaigned for, is a win for those struggling with the runaway costs of rent-to-own agreements. We’re delighted it will now be introduced.

“The FCA has recognised the massive harm caused by the crippling interest rates on rent-to-own deals. This cap will stop people from paying over the odds compared to similar products on the high street and falling into further debt when costs spiral out of control.

“Our evidence has repeatedly shown well-designed caps can reduce the harm high-cost credit can cause. Where these credit products cause more harm than good, for example doorstep loans, the FCA should move to introduce similar protections.”


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CAB News 01 March 2019

Image result for mental health premium extra bills

Friday 01 March 2019

Our new research which shows a lack of support for people with a mental health condition can lead them to pay between £1,100 to £1,550 a year more for essential services, has been featured widely in the papers and online. The problem exists across energy, telecoms, current accounts and unsecured personal credit such as credit cards and overdrafts.

National

Consumer

‘Mental health premium’ can add £1,550 to household bills

Financial Times (subscription required), 01/03/2019, Nikou Asgari

Many firms are failing to provide customers with mental health conditions with adequate support to enable them to shop around for the best deals, reports the Financial Times.

Gillian Guy said: “If you have a mental health condition, keeping on top of everyday tasks such as paying a bill, or solving a problem with a provider, can be especially challenging. Companies should be doing all they can to support vulnerable customers, but instead too many are being left to fend for themselves.”

Vulnerable customers struggle to pay bills on time and solve problems with providers

The Independent, 01/03/2019, Josie Clarke

Our findings were also featured in The Independent. Gillian told the paper: “Poor mental health is the number one health issue experienced by the people we help, and it is fundamentally unfair that they pay more for their essential services.”

“Last year the government tasked regulators with making minimum standards for people with poor mental health a priority. Little has been done. This is a widespread problem and regulators need to step up and take action to ensure people are not being ripped off.”

The Telegraph and itv.com also covered the story.

Universal Credit

Thousands lose cash as tiny changes force them onto new benefit

Mirror Online, 27/02/2019, Dan Bloom

Kayley Hignell’s comments highlighting the problem of hundreds of thousands of families who are being forced onto Universal Credit by “changes in circumstances” that could be major, or as small as a child’s fifth birthday, were reported by the Mirror Online.

Existing benefit claimants aren’t meant to switch until mid-2020, but the Mirror estimates up to 250,000 families have been forced onto Universal Credit already. Speaking to the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee Kayley said: “All of those people don’t get transitional protection. They are going through a change in circumstances that can be hard.”

Competition watchdog bids to sharpen its teeth

The Times (subscription required), 26/02/2019, p.37, Ben Martin

Company directors could be disqualified for serious breaches of consumer laws and boards overhauled by the Competition and Markets Authority under far-reaching proposals to widen their powers. Gillian Guy said the measures could ‘unshackle regulators and give them the authority they need to better protect consumers.’

Competition watchdog wants wider powers to be consumers’ champion

The Financial Times (subscription required), 26/02/2019, p.3, Barney Thompson, George Parker

The plans could be a ‘huge step forward’, said Gillian Guy, adding: “For too long the balance of power has been tipped in favour of business, not consumers.” But she urged regulators not to “sit on their hands as they wait for new laws to be passed”.

Regional

Gambling

Citizens Advice Support service rolled out across Wirral

The Wirral Globe, 26/02/2019, Lauren Jones

Citizens Advice Wirral has launched a new service aimed at spotting the signs of gambling related problems early. The Gambling Support Service will take a ‘public health approach to the issue.’ Chief officer of Citizens Advice Wirral Carol Johnson-Eyre said: ‘Problem gambling can set off a chain reaction of issues and lead to debt, eviction, mental health problems and relationship breakdown.’

In other news

Consumers who have been tricked into authorising bank payments to fraudsters are more likely to be reimbursed by their bank in future thanks to new rules agreed by the industry.

Predictive algorithms, where computers crunch statistics to advise on possible future outcomes, are becoming more commonplace. At least 53 councils are using them for everything from traffic management to benefit sanctions.

More than a million public sector workers are paid less than the living wage. A report by the Living Wage Foundation says care workers and cleaners are among those trapped in in-work poverty.

The former head of research at Citizens Advice, Justin Gutmann is leading a £100 million legal claim against two railway firms which claims they overcharged millions of passengers.


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Citizens Advice responds to Competition and Markets Authority’s proposed reforms

Friday 01 March 2019

In response to the briefing from the Competition and Markets Authority on proposed reforms:

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“These reforms have the potential to be a huge step forward for consumers.

“As our super-complaint to the CMA made clear, for too long the balance of power has been tipped in favour of business not consumers.

“The proposals set out today could unshackle regulators and give them the authority they need to better protect consumers by putting their interests first.

“The government have already promised consumer legislation in the first half of this year – we hope they listen to the CMA and set out a clear plan.

“But regulators must not sit on their hands as they wait for new laws to be passed. They must use their existing powers to stop the most blatant rip offs such as the loyalty penalty and overcharging vulnerable consumers.”


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Citizens Advice responds to Royal Mail’s new mail redirection prices

Friday 01 March 2019

Citizens Advice has responded to Royal Mail’s new mail redirection prices announced today.

Last year,  the charity revealed households with different surnames were being unfairly charged more.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“We are disappointed to see Royal Mail increasing the cost of the mail redirection service for many, after we exposed that families with different surnames were being penalised. This is merely shifting the cost to others while Royal Mail still profits.

“Given people have no choice where to buy their redirection service from, we expect the regulator Ofcom to be seriously concerned about these changes as this important service needs to be affordable.

“The price of Royal Mail’s monopoly service has already increased dramatically over the last seven years. Royal Mail should at least allow customers to spread the cost in monthly installments.”


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Citizens Advice responds to Ofgem price cap announcement

Friday 08 February 2019

Citizens Advice, in its role as the official consumer champion for energy, has responded to Ofgem’s decision to raise its default and pre-payment meter energy tariff caps.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“Unfortunately price rises were inevitable as the cost of supplying electricity and gas to our homes has been increasing. As unwelcome as this news is, it’s likely that prices would be higher still without the cap and there are steps people can take to ease the strain on their bills.

“There are big savings to be made by switching supplier or tariff. Simple steps like topping up your insulation, or installing better heating controls, can permanently reduce your bills and make your home more comfortable.”

Citizens Advice price comparison site and supplier star rating

To support customers to save money on their energy bills, Citizens Advice provides an independent price comparison site and a customer service star rating which ranks suppliers’ customer service.


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