More than three-quarters (78%) of the over-65s have switched energy supplier at some point, making them some of the most active consumers in the energy market according to new research by the Energy Ombudsman. Customers who switched found the process straightforward, with more than half (54%) saying the process was simple and easy.
However a significant minority of older customers, estimated to number over 300,000, chose not to complain when they have a problem and nearly a quarter (24%) said they feel intimidated at the prospect of calling their supplier.
Problems with accessibility may be driving this concern, as nearly a quarter (23%) of those who have complained say that had struggled to hear or understand the operator at their energy company while more than one in 10 (11%) have difficulty reading their bills due to the size of the print. Nearly three in 10 over 65s (29%) said it took them a very long time to get through to the right person, while one in four (26%) found that they had to complain repeatedly before their issue was addressed. Once in touch with their supplier, close to a third (30%) found that they were passed from pillar to post, with many finding that nobody was willing to take responsibility for their complaint.
The research was conduced by Opinium, which questioned 1,006 people aged 55 and over across the UK, who are responsible for their own energy bills.
Lewis Shand Smith, chief ombudsman at Ombudsman Services, says: “It’s concerning that some older people over find it difficult to raise a complaint and that needs to be addressed. Many of them need very specific assistance when they have an issue and these consumers need to be supported. We will be working with energy companies and feeding back these insights to help them improve their signposting, standards and ways to work with vulnerable groups.
“Complaining should be a simple and quick process, not a stressful or intimidating one,” he added.
Mervyn Kohler, Age UK’s external affairs manager said: “The days of paternalistic (and often monopolistic) utility providers are long gone. The message from Government is that active consumers should drive higher standards in the market, so we need to switch for better deals and complain effectively when things go wrong. The Energy Ombudsman is there to help resolve complaints, but needs good evidence on which to act.
“Older people should not suffer a second-class service in silence and frustration. Being an organised consumer does not need to be distressing or intimidating,” she added.
To ensure those in later life know how to access help and address any problems effectively, Ombudsman Services has created a ‘Know Your Energy Rights’ guide containing tips and advice as well as a comprehensive directory of who to contact for help. To find out more, visit www.ombudsman-services.org/later-in-life.
In the first half of 2016, around 1.6 million domestic customers switched gas suppliers and 2.2 million domestic customers switched electricity suppliers, according to Ofgem.
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