Members of NEON, the National Energy Ombudsmen Network, handled together 72,462 energy-related disputes in 2014.
In total, the Ombudsman Services (GB) handled 52,913 energy-related disputes; the French Médiateur National de l’Energie, 14,412; the Belgian Ombudsdienst voor Energie/Service de Médiation de l’Energie, 4,819 and the Catalan Sindic, El defensor de les persones, 318.
In 2015, NEON members shared experiences and good practices on complaint handling, data management, and monitoring processes with the goal to harmonise the collection of data and identify the main current and future shortcomings of the market. Acknowledging differences between members, this detailed analysis shows that the majority of complaints deal with invoicing and (e-)billing (38%), payment (19%) and metering (14%) issues.
Despite significant differences between Member States, energy prices, and the invoicing process are at the core of end-users daily concerns. These data, coupled with recent Eurostat statistics showing that electricity and gas prices rose faster (2.9% and 2% respectively) than inflation (0.6%) in 2014, while energy poverty may affect nearly 11% of the EU population, should be taken as red flags to European stakeholders and decision-makers.
Data also show that the Internal Energy Market is still not achieved, and essential and ambitious actions from all stakeholders are required to empower consumers. It seems clear that the market must be tailored to the needs and interests of the different categories of users and consumers, especially the most vulnerable ones.
When dealing with investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy project funding and incentives, public powers and regulators should take into account the public interests and the economic, social and ecological impact of these investments and the given incentives. Average consumers with limited means, who cannot afford to get their own installation, should not be carrying alone the burden of those expenses and should be able to see quickly the benefits of those investments.
Even if NEON members acknowledge that not all dissatisfied energy customers turn to the Ombudsman or ADR bodies for help, this data also shows that if the European Energy Union is to empower all consumers, strong, accessible and fair ADR procedures are essential. The 2015 edition of the Consumer Scoreboard also recognises that to increase consumer trust, further development of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) will be needed.
Hence, NEON will continue to grow its network and monitor data so as to foster greater opportunities to improve the functioning of the internal energy market. Greater transparency around the whole complaints landscape, especially the nature and volume of complaints made by EU consumers to companies will contribute to consumer’s empowerment and engagement. Following Article 16.3 of the ADR directive, Member States should encourage ADR entities operating in the energy sector to become part of NEON, to underpin a comprehensive view of the energy market.
To achieve a strong consumer engagement, and increase trust in the market, stakeholders should send clear and positive signals for consumers. A striving Consumer Code, a common framework to protect end consumers with effective standards for prices and price comparison tools, sales, switches, moving, contractual terms, unified communications, information on real-time consumption with smart meters, easily understandable bills, and complaint procedures should be fostered. Independent ombudsmen and ADR bodies with their key understanding of the market are best placed to engage policy-makers regulators, energy providers, and consumers in such a constructive dialogue. A first workshop on the Consumer Code will be held at the beginning of 2016.