Article by Tony Keeling, Director of Customer Service at SSE
This is the third and final one of my articles looking at the reforms being made to the energy market through Ofgem’s Retail Market Review, which is intended to make things simpler, clearer and fairer for customers.
I’ve been looking at exactly what is being changed through RMR and what it means for customers on a day-to-day basis. The last area to cover is what is being done to make things fairer.
You might think it goes without saying that customers of any business should expect to be treated fairly. But in a sector such as energy, where the product being provided is one of life’s essentials, it’s even more important that customers can have total confidence in their supplier. The last part of the RMR reforms is designed to give customers greater assurances.
Standards of Conduct
Firstly, energy suppliers have signed up to new Standards of Conduct, which are conditions of their licences to supply energy and are enforceable by Ofgem.
These standards set in stone suppliers’ obligation to be fair in any way in which they engage with customers. That includes making it simple for consumers to get in touch with them and acting swiftly to put things right when mistakes are made. At SSE we are very serious and enthusiastic about meeting and even exceeding the standards and our Treating Customers Fairly document is available here: https://www.sse.co.uk/HelpAndAdvice/TreatingCustomersFairly/StandardsOfConduct/.
On a more everyday level, Ofgem is taking other steps to protect customers. For instance, for fixed-term tariffs – not to be confused with fixed price tariffs — it is banning price increases or other changes during the term of the contract unless they benefit the customer – except for existing tracker tariffs (until they come to the end of their term), certain types of indexed tariff or structured price increases that are set out in advance.
RMR will also mean suppliers can no longer automatically move customers onto new fixed term contracts at the end of their existing tariff. Customers coming to the end of their fixed tariff will be moved instead back onto their supplier’s cheapest standard variable tariff.
This is something we strongly support and our simple selection of tariffs means it is very easy for customers to see which tariff they are on when their contract comes to an end. We will also give them plenty of advance notice of this.
Lastly, suppliers will have to work even harder to ensure that any information sent to customers has no potential at all to mislead or confuse them, as well as relating to products or services that are appropriate for the specific customer receiving the information.
Energy is a complicated area, and, even with all the work being done by suppliers to make things simpler, we know it can still be confusing. So we completely agree that it is very important to make sure the information customers receive is simple, clear and appropriate, in order to minimise the risk of it being interpreted in the wrong way.
Overall, RMR is an ambitious, progressive set of reforms that will deliver many real, tangible benefits for customers. As all of the measures are fully implemented over the next few months, different customers will be affected in slightly different ways. But, over the long term, the energy market will be better as a result.
If the outcome is that more customers find it easier to engage with their supplier and the market generally, as well as understand the products and services on offer and be confident that they are getting a fair deal, then it’s good news for everyone.