Energy bills to rise faster than government predicts

Energy bill

Household energy bills are set to rise by around £240 a year - £100 a year more than the government has forecast, a leading energy provider warned today.

Npower said the rises will be "primarily driven by the impact of unprecedented investment in new infrastructure, and the cost of improving energy efficiency in people's homes," rather than driven by supplier's quest for profit.

Paul Massara, chief executive of Npower, admitted that the public doesn't know "who or what to believe" when it comes to rising costs, with the blame shifting back and forth from energy suppliers to government, each pointing the finger at the other. "It's led to confusion, mistrust, and misinformation, and that's something we urgently need to address," he said.

The energy provider added that rising costs can be tackled by reducing energy consumption.

Richard Lloyd, executive director of consumer rights group Which?, said: "Suppliers have often blamed domestic bill increases on rising wholesale costs, but a lack of transparency in the market makes it hard to establish the facts. Government policy is also driving a growing part of our fuel bills and while new, cleaner energy generation is needed, it must be done at the lowest possible price for consumers.

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"People will not be confident they are paying a fair rate for their energy unless all these costs are transparent and given the most robust expert scrutiny."

In separate research published today, it emerged that Npower is keeping its customers on hold for 17 minutes on average.

An investigation by Which? found that 10 of the 16 energy suppliers it called, took more than two minutes, on average, to answer – what it considers to be a fair benchmark.

While Npower was the slowest provider on call-answering, its much smaller rival, Ebico, answered customer calls in person in just 21 seconds.

Kept on hold

It also emerged that five of the Big Six energy firms (British Gas, EDF, Npower, Scottish Power and SSE), with Eon the exception, answered calls to its sales number faster than customer services – suggesting new customers are given priority over existing customers.

Meanwhile, the research revealed that 39% of consumers say their biggest energy call bugbear is a non-freephone number and that seven of 16 companies Which? surveyed charged for consumers to call customer service hotlines – Ecotricity, Eon, First Utility, Good Energy, Scottish Power, Spark Energy and Utility Warehouse.

However, Ecotricity, Eon, Scottish Power and Utility Warehouse all have freephone numbers for their sales phone lines.

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: "It's outrageous that some energy suppliers are leaving their customers dangling on the phone, in some cases even paying for the privilege, for anything up to half an hour.

"With rising energy prices one of the top consumer concerns, people deserve to feel confident that customer service is a top priority for their energy supplier.

"Energy companies need to get their priorities right and stop putting sales over service.  We'd like to see calls to customer service centres being picked up within two minutes and that if they offer a freephone number for sales they should do the same for customer service."

Who keeps you hanging?

1. Ebico - 21 secs
2. The Co-operative Energy - 39 secs
3. Ecotricity - 53 secs
4. Sainsbury's Energy - 56 secs
5. Good Energy - 1 min 3 secs
6. EDF Energy - 1 min 41 secs
7. M&S Energy - 2 mins 41 secs
8. Ovo Energy - 2 mins 44 secs
9. SSE - 3 mins 36 secs
10. Eon - 4 mins 4 secs
11. Scottish Power - 4 mins 26 secs
12. British Gas - 4 mins 34 secs
13. Utility Warehouse - 4 mins 42 secs
14. First Utility - 6 mins 13 secs
15. Spark Energy - 6 mins 30 secs
16. Npower - 17 mins 5 secs

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