Policy & regulation, Comment

The ombudsman is helping the energy sector to focus on consumers to build trust and confidence.

Chief Ombudsman Lewis Shand Smith talks about the response to the findings of an Ofgem-commissioned review of the Energy Ombudsman, and plans for the future.


 September 2015, Ofgem published a review of the Energy Ombudsman’s work in the energy industry, which highlighted our ability to ­handle growing case numbers and adapt in a challenging environment. The report brought to light a number of opportunities for us to improve the sector, such as working more closely with Ofgem and the industry, using our data more effectively to help both consumers and suppliers, and building up skills to deliver an improved service to consumers.

A year or so on, we have embraced these findings and are working closely with both Ofgem and Citizens Advice to improve the consumer journey and align standards of complaints hand­ling across the sector. We have also focused on developing our own practices so that the Energy Ombudsman works more effectively for everyone.

Ofgem, Citizens Advice and the Energy Ombudsman have been working more closely together on data analysis. By working together we can see the customer journey from beginning to end. The new way of working will allow us to identify early warning signs of potential issues, and to highlight improvements to complaints handling processes that will make the consumer experience of the sector more positive overall.

We have involved the industry in these changes through a number of outreach and engagement events over the course of the past year and we are keen for this to continue. Strengthening the way we record and analyse data has already delivered significant benefits to suppliers, which will benefit consumers in turn. We are improving our insight capabilities, which will help us enhance the quality of complaints handling by suppliers and proactively pinpoint areas that could be problematic in future by monitoring trends.

Changes to data management have already allowed us to analyse trends and anomalies in individual companies’ complaints handling, and use this information to help them plan more effectively for their case numbers. We are working with suppliers on their forecasting, which will account for peaks and troughs in complaints, and allow them to put measures in place that enable them to manage their complaints effectively across the year.

As the largest multi-sector ombudsman in the UK, another advantage has been our capability to take recommendations from the report and implement them across other sectors. This has been particularly true within communications, where the assistance we have given to energy suppliers in spotting early signs of complaint trends has been successfully replicated with telecom providers. Moving forward, it is crucial we continue to take learnings and apply them across all sectors we cover.

So far, I’ve talked about how we’re working with industry stakeholders and suppliers to make the current complaints handling system work more effectively, but what about the work we’re doing with consumers? Recent Ofgem research showed that only a quarter of consumers recalled being told they could bring their complaint to the Energy Ombudsman. Around one in 20 who could bring their complaint to the Energy Ombudsman actually does, so we’re working to ensure consumers know their rights and how to complain if they experience an issue.

We’re making progress through our Consumer Action Monitor, but at the moment there are still significant barriers to consumers complaining – particularly vulnerable consumers. So far, we’ve worked on campaigns to reach the elderly, students and those with mental health issues, partnering with a number of stakeholders along the way, including Age UK and SANE. In early 2017, we will be touring shopping centres across the UK with our Consumer Complaints roadshow, giving face-to-face advice and logging complaints straight onto the case system.

We’re determined to drive up awareness in the coming year, and will be broadening our reach to other key audiences.

We’re committed to helping companies put consumers at the heart of what they do. We’re clear that working in partnership with the sector is essential to building consumer trust and confidence, and we always welcome any suggestions around how we do this. There are many improvements which the review and the follow-up work have put in place and I am confident that we are in an even better position to make sure the energy sector is working for everyone.

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