Ombudsman praises networks customer service

For immediate release – Thursday 8 October 2015

Conservative Party Conference

Energy Ombudsman Lewis Shand Smith has praised energy networks for their concerted effort to improve customer service at a Conservative Conference fringe debate on trust in Utilities.

Shand Smith told the Utility Week Lobby with Energy Networks Association (ENA):

"If we depended on networks I would be out of a job. The customer service in networks has improved beyond all recognition and all credit must go to them for that."

Shand Smith was speaking about the need for a cultural change in approach to customer service in some parts of the utilities industry in order to improve trust. His appearance on the panel followed a Conference announcement by Secretary of State for Energy Amber Rudd that the Ombudsman would be given greater powers to tackle energy companies which consistently offer poor levels of service for their customers.

Chief Executive of Electricity North West Steve Johnson was alongside the Ombudsman on the panel and he made the point that, as natural monopolies, energy networks need to take responsibility for their own performance, and not simply rely on regulation to deliver for customers. Johnson said, "When I welcome new graduates, trainees and apprentices to my business I talk to them about the privilege of working for a company such as ours, and in the position we are in we have to deliver for our customers as if we are in a competitive market."

Johnson also pointed to the remarkable innovation that is underway in the networks sector, which will enable the low carbon transition, and save customers £1 billion in electricity distribution costs over the next eight year price control period. In discussing how networks can better communicate their successes and raise their public profile Johnson said that the 105 number for electricity networks will make an important contribution. 105, which will be delivered by Energy Networks Association in April 2016, will offer a new service to customers to contact their local network company and be backed by a comprehensive national consumer awareness campaign.

John Penrose MP shared his views on the regulation of utilities, which he set out in a 2013 report. Whilst acknowledging that the strong regulation of energy networks, which is currently in place, would remain crucial, Penrose suggested that the competitive parts of the energy industry could benefit from a lighter touch approach; what he referred to as a shift from a big regulator model to a big consumer model.

Speaking on behalf of the water sector, Jose Davila from United Utilities was able to echo the experience of the energy networks in addressing the challenge of ensuring legitimacy when customers are not able to vote with their feet. He explained how water companies have prioritised engagement with customers to shape business plans and maintain accountability as those plans are delivered.

ENDS

Notes to editors

ENA is the voice of the networks representing the ‘wires and pipes’ transmission and distribution network operators for gas and electricity in the UK and Ireland.

For further information please contact:

Matthew Pringle
Press and Public Affairs Officer
Energy Networks Association

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