Older energy customers vote with their feet - and switch

by Communications Team | Nov 14, 2016

  • More than three-quarters (78%) of the over-65s have switched energy supplier at some point
  • But a significant minority, numbering over 300,000 choose to ‘suffer in silence’ when they have a problem*
  • A quarter (24%) find the idea of complaining to their energy provider intimidating
  • Ombudsman Services has created a Know Your Energy Rights guide to help older people complain effectively

More than three-quarters of older people (aged 65 and over) in the UK have switched energy supplier at some point, making them some of the most active consumers in the energy market. New research by the Energy Ombudsman, the sole provider of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in the energy sector, reveals that older people are voting with their feet, with nearly four-fifths (78%) saying that they have switched energy supplier in the past.

But the energy industry does still have issues in catering for older customers, with a significant minority, estimated to number over 300,000, choosing not to complain when they have a problem* and nearly a quarter (24%) saying they feel intimidated at the prospect of calling their supplier.  

Problems with accessibility may be driving this concern, as nearly a quarter (23%) of those who have complained say that they had struggled to hear or understand the operator at their energy company while more than one in 10 (11%) have difficulty reading their bills due to the size of the print. Nearly three in 10 over 65s (29%) said it took them a very long time to get through to the right person, while one in four (26%) found that they had to complain repeatedly before their issue was addressed. Once in touch with their supplier, close to a third (30%) found that they were passed from pillar to post, with many finding that nobody was willing to take responsibility for their complaint.

The good news is that consumers who do decide to switch find the process straightforward, with more than half (54%) saying the process was simple and easy. 

Lewis Shand Smith, Chief Ombudsman at Ombudsman Services, says: “It’s concerning that some older people over find it difficult to raise a complaint and that needs to be addressed. Many of them need very specific assistance when they have an issue and these consumers need to be supported. We will be working with energy companies and feeding back these insights to help them improve their signposting, standards and ways to work with vulnerable groups.  

"Complaining should be a simple and quick process, not a stressful or intimidating one. It is crucial that those older people who aren’t currently complaining feel able to do so, whether that is through bolstered customer service or accessibility. To help them, we’ve created a ‘Know Your Energy Rights’ guide that provides helpful information and advice for effective complaining.”

Mervyn Kohler, Age UK's External Affairs Manager said: "The days of paternalistic (and often monopolistic) utility providers are long gone. The message from Government is that active consumers should drive higher standards in the market, so we need to switch for better deals and complain effectively when things go wrong. The Energy Ombudsman is there to help resolve complaints, but needs good evidence on which to act.

"This guide sets out the steps to take to ensure help from the ombudsman - which is free. Older people should not suffer a second-class service in silence and frustration. Being an organised consumer does not need to be distressing or intimidating."

To ensure those in later life know how to access help and address any problems effectively, Ombudsman Services has created a ‘Know Your Energy Rights’ guide containing tips and advice as well as a comprehensive directory of who to contact for help. To download a copy of the free guide, click here.

Those in later life who have a problem with a goods or service should follow the below steps to complain effectively:

  1. Firstly identify what you want to achieve, have a clear idea of what it is you want to achieve from complaining.
  2. Make notes beforehand so you remember everything you want to say.
  3. Remember it’s your right to complain if you’re not satisfied.
  4. Admit your part in the problem if you have any fault.
  5. Address one complaint at a time, ensure what you say is clear and fair.
  6. Keep records of all correspondence, including phone calls, paperwork, bills and receipts, if asked to send them anywhere make sure you send photocopies and keep originals.
  7. If you’re not getting results complaining directly to the company, identify the person or organisation that has the power to make changes and help.
  8. If your complaint has not been resolved quickly (normally within eight weeks), you can take your complaint to an organisation like Ombudsman Services. 

*The latest Office for National Statistics figures show that there are 11.4 million people aged 65 and over in the UK. Our research shows that 18% have experience an issued in the last five years and of these, 17% did not take a complaint to the energy provider

Published November 2016

Methodology: Research conducted by Opinium on behalf of Ombudsman Services, which questioned 1,006 people aged 55 and over across the UK, who are responsible for their own energy bills. The survey ran from 4th October 2016 – 7th October 2016.