SMEs bashed in the utilities

Three-quarters of SMEs are getting grief from their utility suppliers - but can't do much about it.

by
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The survey, by the Forum of Private Business, found that 74% of respondents had had problems with one or more of their utilities suppliers, and that for 59% these problems have got worse in the past six months.

The list of gripes? Anything from ‘unjustifiably high' energy prices and poor customer service (who would have guessed?), to finding themselves tied via roll-over contracts into unfavourable deals with providers. That and a distinct lack of confidence in regulators such as Ofwat and Ofgem.

As part of Ofgem's new ‘complaints handling standards', businesses are expected to complain directly to their energy companies, rather than Consumer Focus - the industry watchdog formed from the merging of the National Consumer Council, Postwatch and Energywatch. If the complaint is passed on, the maximum compensation available is a low-energy £5k.

The FPB has expressed fears that Consumer Focus doesn't give small business the protection it offers domestic customers. It may have a point: the watchdog doesn't even investigate complaints from businesses unless their supply has been cut off and they are deemed to be ‘vulnerable'.

But while they may be turning up the heat on the utilities suppliers, small business leaders should be careful not to get burned themselves. A separate survey, by 1&1 Internet, found that 47% of online customers want to resolve any complaints they have with products or services directly through the website they've been using, rather than actually airing their woes to a real-live human. But 83% of small businesses don't see a demand for such feedback facilities on their site. What goes around comes around...


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