The Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) has recently released its Customer Care Report for 2022, revealing a number of complaints from utility customers. One of the cases mentioned in the report involves a customer who received a “large catch-up bill” for gas usage amounting to €11,536.27. The issue stemmed from the fact that the customer’s gas usage had been based on estimated meter reads since April 2020. The customer had renewed their contract with their supplier in 2021 and 2022, but the lack of meter readings was never raised or discussed. Gas Networks Ireland also failed to ask for a meter reading during that time. As a result, the customer was billed using the highest rate, which did not reflect the price at the various time periods over the two years in which the energy had been used.
This case is quite astounding, considering that gas prices in Ireland rose by 86.1% in the year to February. The customer was asked to pay sky-high rates for gas that was supplied to everyone else in the country at a fraction of the price. The supplier rejected the customer’s complaint and stated that the customer had been billed in line with standard industry procedure, which is to charge the customer for usage as per the meter readings obtained by Gas Networks Ireland and to apply the rates applicable at that point in time. The CRU also rejected the customer’s complaint, leaving the supplier fully entitled to charge very high rates for gas supplied at very low rates if the customer is operating on estimated bills. However, the CRU requested the supplier to review billing from 2020 to 2022, apportion/pro-rate the energy usage over bi-monthly billing periods, and apply the prices that applied at these various billing periods, rather than charging the customer the full usage catch-up at today’s current higher rate/price. The supplier agreed to pro-rate the bill as a goodwill gesture, resulting in a reduced bill of €5,344.66, a difference of €6,191.61.
Another case highlighted in the report involves a customer whose supplier took €2,274.73 from their bank account without authorization. The supplier claimed that the sum was owed because of a legacy account from 2008, but it took 37 days of constant telephone calls before the supplier reacted and logged a formal complaint regarding the matter. It took four months before the supplier returned the money to the customer’s bank account. Throughout the ordeal, the customer felt that their numerous calls on the various issues raised were continually ignored. The supplier eventually offered €310 in compensation, but the customer rejected the offer, stating that it did not reflect either the time it took to deal with the issue or the stress it had caused. The complaint was escalated to the CRU, which ultimately directed the supplier to award the customer compensation of €600. The report says that “the service provided by this supplier is not what the CRU expects from a large, long-established energy supplier.” However, there was no naming and shaming, and the report did not say if the customer was happy with the €600.
Last year, the CRU received over 12,000 contacts from energy and water customers, an 87% increase from 2021. Billing issues, electricity account problems, and billing issues drove the largest volume of contacts, and customer complaints were upheld 43% of the time, up from 32% the previous year. The CRU said in a press release that it was aware of the impact of high energy prices on households and small businesses, especially those that may already be struggling to pay their bills. While there were increases in contact volumes in relation to all energy suppliers, these were significantly higher for Panda Power, SSE Airtricity, Iberdrola, Electric Ireland, and Pinergy. The share of customer contacts for each of the seven largest suppliers was broadly in line with their market share, with the exception of Electric Ireland, whose level of customer contacts was 35% lower than its combined percentage market share of 45%. The suppliers whose level of customer contact levels exceeded their market share included Bord Gáis Energy, Flogas, and Pinergy.
The CRU also received 367 customer contacts in relation to Uisce Éireann in 2022, a similar level as in 2021. Seventy-one percent of the 17 Uisce Éireann customer complaints investigated in 2022 were upheld. Customers continued to report that Uisce Éireann failed to respond to their queries in a timely manner. Customers also reported being dissatisfied with Uisce Éireann’s complaints process, with issues raised including customers not being kept updated in terms of the status of their complaint and Uisce Éireann not escalating or responding to customer complaints in a timely way.
In conclusion, the CRU’s Customer Care Report for 2022 reveals a number of issues that Irish utility customers continue to face, such as estimated billing, unauthorized transactions, and poor customer service. While the CRU has made efforts to address these issues, there is still much work to be done to ensure that Irish utility customers are treated fairly and receive the services they deserve.