Many older people are suffering in silence

by Communications Team | Oct 23, 2015

  • Close to a million older people are not complaining when they get poor service from their energy supplier, according to Ombudsman Services and Age UK.
  • A third of those in later life simply ‘don’t want to make a fuss’.
  • Nearly half of all pensioners surveyed are in the dark when it comes to knowing their consumer rights.
  • The new ‘Know Your Energy Rights’ guide will give older people the information and advice they need to solve their energy complaints.

Close to a million1 older people are suffering in silence about the poor service they receive from their energy supplier. Research by Ombudsman Services: Energy, which handles unresolved complaints about energy companies,  suggests that those aged 65 and over either don’t like making a fuss (32%) or worry that they will feel intimidated if they do complain (9%), meaning that Ombudsman Services: Energy is only seeing the tip of the iceberg of complaints.

According to the data, those aged 65 and over are most likely to have a complaint about energy provision but they are least likely to complain about service and billing when standards slip to unacceptable levels2. Billing (56%) was the main complaint among this age group, which could be relate to disputed charges, inaccurate invoices and backdated billing. This was followed by problems with supply issues (27%) and poor customer service (26%).

Many older people who do complain say they find the process challenging. For instance, a third (34%) say they complained several times before anything was done and one in 10 (11%) say they were ignored. In light of this, consumers were most likely to say that they felt annoyed (37%) and frustrated (21%) when speaking to their supplier about a problem, with fewer than one in five (14%) saying they felt satisfied.

This is likely to be because so many older people are left confused about their consumer rights. Nearly half (45%) are unsure of or do not know what their consumer rights are, with many unable to determine when they have the grounds to make a complaint and how to ensure they do not suffer from unfair treatment when they do so.

Pensioners are also concerned that their age may be holding them back, with a third (34%) put off complaining because they’re worried that they won’t be taken seriously because of their age.

Lewis Shand Smith, Chief Ombudsman commenting on the findings, said: “Compared to the general population, those in later life are likely to rely more heavily on their energy provision so it’s worrying that so few take a complaint further when they have one. It’s concerning that nearly a million older people in the UK prefer to grin and bear it when they have a problem with their energy because they don’t want to make a fuss or feel intimidated.  It’s also worrying that so few know their consumer rights, which could leave many vulnerable.

“Those in later life are often on a fixed income and are living on a strict budget, so it’s important that they are in control of their bills and know where there is free help available if things go wrong. This is why we’ve created a ‘Know Your Energy Rights’ guide, that provides advice to make older people savvy complainers.”

Mervyn Kohler, Age UK’s External Affairs Adviser said: “The energy sector has not covered itself in glory for treating customers’ fairly in recent years. Yet the process of making a complaint, and getting help to resolve that complaint, is getting easier. We’re all urged to be savvy shoppers, and we all must demand good service as customers. 

“Know Your Energy Rights, from Ombudsman Services, is welcomed by Age UK. The key point is to keep meticulous records of every phone call, letter or email;  whom you spoke to, and what action was promised. The energy company has eight weeks to resolve the issue, after which Ombudsman Services can intervene - at no cost to the complainant. It is an important service which all older people should be telling their friends all about.”

To ensure those in later life know how to access help and address any problems, Ombudsman Services – which runs a free online service for consumer complaints (www.consumer-ombudsman.org) - is today releasing its ‘Know Your Energy Rights’ guide containing tips and advice as well as a comprehensive directory of who to contact for help.

To download this free guide visit our Later in Life page. Those in later life who have a problem with a goods or service should follow the below steps to complain effectively:

  • Firstly identify what you want to achieve, have a clear idea of what it is you want to achieve from complaining.
  • Make notes beforehand so you remember everything you want to say.
  • Remember it’s your right to complain if you’re not satisfied.
  • Admit your part in the problem if you have any fault.
  • Address one complaint at a time, ensure what you say is clear and fair.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • If your complaint has not been resolved quickly (normally within eight weeks), you can take your complaint to an organisation like Ombudsman Services. The new service, www.consumer-ombudsman.org, is open for any complaint outside financial services and is run by Ombudsman Services, which already operates the popular government-backed complaints schemes in energy and telecoms.

1. The latest Office for National Statistics figures show that there are 11.4 million people aged 65 and over in the UK. Our consumer omnibus survey showed that 7.8% of respondents did not complain when they had a problem, which equates to 889,200 older people currently suffering in silence.

2. Consumer Action Monitor research 2015 shows that of those aged 65 and over: 

  • They are most likely to have a complaint about energy provisiono Yet nearly half (46%) have never thought about making a complaint 
  • Only 5% of this age group is likely to take a complaint to a third party (all other age groups more likely to do so)
  • Likely to have the lowest number of average complaints per person

ENDS

Published 26 October 2015

Methodology: Research conducted by Censuswide on behalf of Ombudsman Services, which questioned 2,509 people aged 65 and over across the UK (including a 503 sample from Scotland). The survey is representative of gender and region. The survey ran from 27th August 2015 – 4th September 2015.