27th Jan 2017
British Gas Business has incurred a £9.5m fine for “customer service failings”. Energy regulator Ofgem said that the company had “let customers down when it implemented a new IT billing system in 2014”.
Tens of thousands of the firm’s customers were left with delayed and inaccurate bills, while over 6,000 new customers experienced delays registering with the supplier. As a consequence, the number of complaints the supplier received significantly increased, with many handled poorly or not on time.
British Gas Business came forward to Ofgem voluntarily to report the problems in December 2014. The energy regulator’s chief executive officer, Dermot Nolan, comments: “British Gas Business has done the right thing by coming forward to Ofgem to report problems with its new IT billing system, and has since worked hard to improve its customer service. However, British Gas Business’ implementation did go wrong and it didn’t act quickly enough to put things right.”
Nolan added that although the regulator welcomes suppliers investing in new systems and that it recognises this can prove challenging, the £9.5m penalty sends a strong reminder to all energy providers that they must treat consumers fairly at all times, including while new systems are being implemented.
Putting things right
British Gas Business says it has since restored its customer service to a very good standard, and hired up to 350 specialist agents to help handle increased call volumes and a backlog of open comments. The energy provider has also apologised to its business customers.
The decision from British Gas Business to report the IT issues it encountered shows that regulation of customer service can act as a strong incentive for firms to correct any failings – a conclusion met during last summer’s All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Customer Service meeting.
Differing views on the need for regulation were voiced at the meeting, with some feeling it was necessary to protect vulnerable customers in sectors with less competition. Others felt it could dissuade companies from striving to go further than they’re required to. However, a consensus emerged that what was needed was the right sort of regulation that does not inhibit or restrict organisations from improving their level of customer service and pursuing innovation.