New research from Ombudsman Services and Age UK has concluded that elderly customers are being mistreated by energy suppliers.
Thousands are being overcharged or subjected to poor and dismissive customer service. However, many are not following it up with complaints, either because they feel intimidated or do not want to seem as if they are moaning. In cases where a criticism is made it is reported that individuals are simply being ignored.
Many of us experience frustration when it comes to energy companies, be it a lack of response, inaccurate bills or an unannounced rise in prices.
As we move into the winter months, these findings are particularly worrying as elderly citizens suffer the most from potentially devastating effects of the cold. For many, on a small pension, the cost of heating a house is a huge expenditure that often cannot be afforded.
In 2011 the IFS published a study titled ‘Heat or Eat’. It concluded that poverty amongst the elderly was causing them to have to make a decision on whether to spend their small budget on adequately heating their house or eating three substantial meals a day.
Over-65s reported that they are forced to repeatedly complain in order to gain a response. Even following an acknowledgement from energy companies it is common for no action to be taken.
The biggest issue is billing, with elderly customers frequently being overcharged if they try to switch energy providers. This has been accredited to a lack of instruction that individuals need to inform their banks or they will continue to be charged on transferring of cash.
Many elderly citizens suffer from a deterioration of their mental health, commonly effecting their memory; if energy companies do not immediately cancel standing orders then this could be seen as a form of exploitation as they may be expecting – or hoping – that elderly people will forget.
Age UK’s Mervyn Kohler says: “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.”
She stipulates a need for individuals to keep records of all the communication they have with energy providers. If, after eight weeks, the promises that have been made are not kept they should contact the Ombudsman Services and file a formal complaint.
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