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Social Justice

Energy bosses admit more customers are struggling with debt amid spiralling costs

Bosses from E.ON, EDF, Scottish Power and Centrica admitted that an increase in calls from customers worried about energy bills was straining resources.

MPs have told energy company bosses to improve their customer service as they struggle to cope with a huge rise in calls from customers unable to pay their energy bills.

Being quizzed as part of a Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) select committee hearing on energy pricing, bosses from E.ON, EDF, Scottish Power and Centrica admitted that call volumes had placed immense pressure on the companies since the price cap rose by 54 per cent at the start of the month.

With data showing that all four companies’ customer service scores have fallen below acceptable levels on the Citizens Advice customer service scorecard, MP Mark Pawsey told bosses in the hearing their firms “need to get back to a better place than where [they] are now”.

All four companies said they had seen an increase in calls from customers worried about debt, with EDF alone recording a 40 per cent increase. Chris O’ Shea, CEO of Centrica, said outstanding debt had “risen more than £50m in the past year”.

While Scottish Power CEO Keith Anderson and O’Shea suggested they had retrained or redeployed staff to deal with the surge in calls, only Simone Rossi, CEO at EDF, indicated the company had hired extra staff.

Around 300 extra staff have been hired by EDF, representing an increase of 15 per cent, Rossi said. Pawsey, however, pointed out that this did not match the 20 per cent increase in customers EDF has taken on due to the collapse of other energy suppliers.

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When asked later in the hearing whether companies had altered their approach to debt management, all four bosses said they had not.

The hearing comes amid concerns that energy company customer service has deteriorated as energy costs have rocketed for millions of households by a record £693 annually.

According to Citizens Advice, the average call waiting time is now more than five minutes, compared with about four minutes during the same period in 2020.

Some customers are facing waits of up to 15 minutes with certain suppliers.

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The energy bosses in the BEIS hearing said the government needs to do much more to support households in, and at risk of, fuel poverty.

Michael Lewis, chief executive of E.ON, said companies are bracing for a “severe impact” on customers’ ability to pay bills in October, when further rises in costs are expected.

The government’s energy rebate scheme, offering a £200 loan to assist with bills in October, has been broadly criticised as insufficient for dealing with the scale of the problem.

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O’Shea and other energy bosses in the BEIS hearing called for more radical action to help customers with their bills, suggesting a rebate of £1,000 to be paid back over 10 years.

“The size and scale of [the energy crisis] is beyond what I can deal with, what the industry can deal with,” O’Shea said.

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