Gas and electricity providers using customers' cash as 'interest-free loans'

26 March 2009 / by Rachel Mason
Energy suppliers are using their customers' money as interest free loans, consumer group Which? has said.

According to Which? gas and electricity providers are taking 'unnecessarily high' direct debit payments from their customers and are then benefiting from having the surplus cash while their customers lose out on any interest they could have earned on the money they have overpaid.

The majority of people surveyed by Which? – 80 per cent – pay their energy bills by monthly direct debit. A quarter of those direct debit payers that are in credit are owed more than £100, while eight per cent are owed more than £200 by their supplier.

"It seems incredible that energy companies can take hundreds of pounds more than they need to from their customers, and profit from the interest that this money will earn at our expense," said Martyn Hocking, editor of Which? Money.

"While a small amount of credit built up over the summer months can be used up during the winter, it’s difficult to see how a £200 credit will be used up – particularly as the customer makes the same payment each month."

Being charged direct debits that have been set too high is the most common complaint from energy customers – the latest Which? survey about customer satisfaction found that gas and electricity providers are one of the lowest performing of all industries when it comes to keeping their customers happy.

And things are not improving – three of the big six companies scored less for customer satisfaction than last year, while the overall average customer satisfaction score was down four per cent from 47 per cent to 43 per cent.

Mr Hocking continued, "Our customer satisfaction report makes for disappointing reading.

"As the recession bites, we are all looking for better service at reasonable prices, and energy suppliers need to take note. People who aren’t happy with their supplier should switch – they could make big savings."

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