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Energy Companies: Ofgem Action Will Do Nothing On Culture

Posted on August 3, 2016 at 11:15 AM

This morning we have the UK energy regulator Ofgem's report - with the much vaunted protection (from April next year) of  four million pre-pay customers by an interim price cap. Ah, progessive capitalism I hear you say: protecting the vulnerable. Alas, no - that's a headline-grabbing sop to corporate governance.

To quote Stephen Green (yet again), 'Corporate Governance is the very essence of a business.' Regulation, surely, helps till the ground for it to flourish.

The facts you need to know are here, via the BBC- 'Ofgem energy shake-up doesn't go far enough.'

All I am going to do here is give a personal perspective. Here are the number of UK customers switching supplier - blue is total electricity switches, red is gas.

(Source: Ofgem)

Against the trend, I have actually changed energy suppliers four times, living in the same property since 1996. It isn't as if I had nothing else to do, as a single parent.

I have wrestled with British Gas, npower, EDF Energy and Scottish Power. British Gas, my first supplier, was beyond the pale in terms of rip-offs. There were many of them, in moving into a new home.The gap between the knowldgeable and nice engineers and 'the company' was huge. Selling was the main thing. Condensing boilers were marketed like the holy grail. The engineers breathed a sigh of relief when a deal was finally done to supplyhttps://www.worcester-bosch.co.uk/" target="_blank"> Worcester Bosch  boilers. I took the boiler - after years of angst - and I voted with my feet.

npower was the worst - it particularly comes to mind as I argued about being systematically overcharged for years - https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/publications-and-updates/npower-pay-26m-failing-treat-customers-fairly-0" target="_blank">as came out eventually. At the time the switching process was harder than it is now. Endless time 'on hold', obfuscation and non-reponse and the onus, always, on the consumer to query, not the energy provider to provide a good and a fair service.

Scottish Power was the most recent, and the best customer service and digital knowhow. But they were just too expensive. I was depressed at having to do it again, but a price comparison service offered by Sevenoaks Council made GB Energy an obvious choice.

Please note, it's not one of the Big Six. It gets digital information. It gets transparency. It provides information on how you should switch tariffs before an imminent price rise if you want to save £. I think it has been about a year now, and I am mostly pleased. I have certainly saved a lot of money - and I am happy to provide regular meter readings.

But in my energy company travails, this was my most common question. 'Why am I in credit by (say) £200' ? I would rather have that money than it sitting on your books. You need to adjust my payments.' And yet more obfuscation, yet more time. Once again, I see I am 'in credit' with GB Energy as well.

Why is there no maximum amount set to how much 'credit'  an energy consumer needs on the account, if paying by direct debit? It makes no sense. That's my money fuelling their business, without interest.

If there is change it is slow-moving and around corporate culture (something the FRC is looking at, from a corporate governance perspective - see Forbes).

Fines after years of ripping off customers is not the answer. The everyday working person is beaten down by the need to fight, on unpaid time, for a fair deal.

A great deal has been written recently (some of it by me) about how non-savvy the average person in the UK is, when it comes to digital. But it shouldn't be a reason for exploitation.

In 2016, any business looking for customers can learn fast when it senses the tide is turning on easy access to information.

The point is, corporate governance really is the essence of a business and all business, particularly the Big Six energy companies need to wake up and smell it. Clarify and Simplify should be the mantra.

I always ask for 'expert on corporate governance' to be removed if people kindly and mistakenly add it to my bio for events.

Because I am no expert. But I do think I know what it should look and smell like, ...and thanks to an unexpected and generous commercial sponsor for the last three years now, I can say so - a big thank you to Mike Evans, CEO of ICSA Software International Ltd.

UPDATE: Having seen this post, GB Energy has been in touch via Twitter, offered a refund for the amount in which I am in credit, and made it happen. That's impressive - and where culture and action intersect for better corporate governance.

Categories: Culture, Governance, Accountability