SMALL businesses have blasted the levels of customer service provided by utilities companies, research from the Forum of Private Business has revealed.
A third (33%) of business owners surveyed by the Forum describe standards of customer service as ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’. Many cite contractual issues – including the practice of rolling businesses over on to often more expensive contracts with little warning.
Just 11% believe utilities contracts are easy to understand, 35% think it is difficult to switch suppliers and 40% feel that contractual terms and conditions are ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’. Almost half of all respondents (47%) are concerned that utilities costs are too steep.
“There must be better protection to stop the erosion of service provided by utilities companies to commercial customers, particularly after the demise of Energy Watch and then Consumer Focus,” said the Forum’s chief executive Phil Orford. “Ofgem does not have the necessary powers to protect all small businesses and, unless we establish proper levels of service and transparency which allow them to make informed choices, they will continue to suffer at the hands of utilities providers.”
He added: “At the very least, protections that have been introduced for micro businesses should apply to all small businesses. There is absolutely no evidence that SMEs with more than 10 employees are better equipped to handle issues with utilities companies.”
Business owners are often given only a small window in which to shop around for energy suppliers, and penalty fines can subsequently be imposed for breach of contract.
While 69% of respondents believe it is difficult to keep track of contract anniversaries, some think it is relatively easy but struggle with short notification windows for switching.
In all, 35% of respondents are unsure when their contracts end and 31% rely to some extent on the arrival of a renewal letter in order to begin the process of comparing their current providers with the rest of the market.