The regulator has issued a provisional order which also bans the company from increasing vulnerable customers’ direct debits.
Ofgem said there was an “unacceptably high proportion of calls abandoned and unacceptably long call waiting times” between March 2018 and September 2018 and whilst call handling has improved since then, it hasn’t seen the required improvements elsewhere.
The ban will remain in place for three months, which could be extended if Solarplicity fails to make the improvements.
The energy supplier must ensure customer contact channels are improved, managed and maintained, with queries and issues resolved in a “timely manner” and ensure the switching process is completed for customers so they are smooth and completed within the timeframe.
It must also identify vulnerable customers and ensure they are receiving appropriate support as well as review customer accounts, especially those in debt, to make sure those having difficulty paying are managed properly.
Mark Starks, Executive Director of Consumers and Markets at Ofgem said: “We have taken action against Solarplicity to protect its customers from experiencing further detriment.
“Solarplicity must get its house in order and provide a level of service that its customers expect. If not, Ofgem will take the necessary steps to ensure customers are further protected and will take the relevant action needed to do this, which may result in its licence being revoked.”
‘Old historical data’
Solarplicity insists it is “committed to meeting the expectations of every single customer” and Ofgem’s decision “made on old historical data, disregards the vast improvements that we have made to customer service”.
A spokesperson added: “[Our] investment has significantly strengthened our account switching service and the vast majority of our customers are able to switch their accounts well within the 21-day limit.
“Ofgem’s provisional order does not cover our new flagship ‘Community Energy Scheme’, which we have developed in partnership with social housing landlords to deliver affordable, clean energy to their tenants. This means we can continue rolling out this offer, which is second to none in fighting fuel poverty for thousands of customers and challenging the dominant UK energy firms.”
‘Appalling customer service’
Alex Neill, Which? Managing Director of Home Services said: “Solarplicity finished rock bottom in our annual energy satisfaction survey, with scores of customers complaining about appalling customer service over the phone and online – so it’s right that the regulator is stepping in.
“As millions of energy customers brace themselves for yet another eye-watering set of price hikes, this should also serve as a warning to all firms letting their customers down with shoddy service, billing and payment problems or poor complaints handling that they need to up their game. Anyone unhappy with their current provider should look to switch to a better deal – and potentially save around £300.”
‘Significant increase in complaints’
The Energy Ombudsman accepted 1,035 complaints about Solarplicity for investigation last year, with billing being the main reason.
Chief Executive Matthew Vickers said: “Last year’s total represents a significant increase on 2017 complaint volumes but that increase should be seen in the context of a rapid growth in Solarplicity customer numbers.
“We are working actively and collaboratively with Solarplicity to identify and help implement improvements that can be made to the company’s complaint handling process and customer service more generally.”