Ofgem is demanding energy companies big and small to “significantly improve” the way they handle customers’ complaints.
The regulator said those who complain about their gas or electricity typically have to contact their supplier six times before their issues are resolved.
Its new report found 57% of domestic customers who had complained were not satisfied with the response and in nearly half of cases where the supplier considered the case resolved, the customer did not.
Ofgem has written to the CEOs of the Big Six as well as smaller and independent suppliers urging them to handle complaints “to an acceptable standard” and be speedier, communicate better as well as be more proactive. The suppliers have been given a three-month deadline to carry out an independent audit of their complaint handling process.
The watchdog said it would now conduct its next survey next year – instead of 2016 – and warned that companies could face penalties if they failed to improve.
ScottisPower and npower were the worst offending companies, with just one in five customers who complained saying they were satisfied with how it was handled.
Ofgem’s Chief Executive Dermot Nolan said the results of the research were “frankly awful”.
He added: “Almost all energy suppliers need to improve their complaints handling as a matter of urgency. There are real business benefits to good complaints handling schemes and it shouldn’t need a regulator to tell companies about the importance of this. Suppliers must now tell their customers what steps they will be taking to put things right.”
The trade body for the energy sector however insists suppliers are “committed to improving”.
An Energy UK spokesperson added: “Every complaint is taken seriously and customers should not suffer in silence.
“Energy companies work hard to provide the best service for their customers but in an industry serving 27 million households sometimes things go wrong. Many complaints are customers raising concerns about inaccurate bills often resulting from estimated or incorrect meter readings… Most other complaints, if they can’t be sorted out by phone, are nearly always resolved in 24 hours.”