Customer service standards at energy suppliers have hit their lowest on record as consumers experience even longer call waiting times and have regularly been unable to get hold of their supplier.
Citizens Advice found customer service standards “plummeted” since June last year, when many energy firms went under in quick succession and millions of customers found themselves shifted to new suppliers.
The charity’s latest ratings of firms’ customer service between January and March has an average score of just 2.8 stars out of five, the lowest on record.
The highest score is now just 3.6 stars, compared with 3.85 in the previous quarter and 4.65 at the same time last year.
Challenger supplier Utilita came in last place with just 1.6 stars out of five. This was followed by Ovo and Ecotricity with 2.1 and 2.3 respectively.
EDF Energy (EDF.PA) was ranked the best performer, with a 3.6 rating, just ahead of Outfox the Market and Bulb Energy, which collapsed last November and is operating under a special administration status handled by the government.
Across the "Big Six" suppliers, British Gas (CNA.L) got 2.95 stars while Scottish Power secured 3 and Octopus Energy had 3.15. SSE (SSE.L) and E.on (EON.BR) were lower down the list, with 2.45 and 2.4 stars respectively.
Citizens Advice’s consumer service helpline handled more than 70,000 cases related to energy issues — a 63% increase on the same period the previous year.
The study showed the average waiting time to speak to an energy supplier on the phone is now about six and a half minutes, compared with just under four minutes during the same period in the previous year.
Energy suppliers are obliged to help people who cannot afford their bills, but Citizens Advice warned they had struggled to cope with increased demand over the past year.
The charity said it was particularly worried about people on prepayment meters, who are at risk of having no gas or electricity if they cannot afford to top up.
One customer, Graham, explained how he struggled to afford his energy bills which were £50 a month. He cannot work due to several health conditions and so receives both PIP and universal credit.
Graham told Citizens Advice: “I’ve asked my supplier to take the payment on a certain day to make sure there’s money in my account, but they take it whenever they want.
“When I try calling them it's so hard to get through to someone. And if I do, they basically say there's nothing they can do.
“There have been a few times that they’ve left me with no money. This has meant I’ve either had to contact my bank to get the money back or go to the food bank.
Graham explained his fixed energy plan came to an end in May, and he was surprised to hear his bills would be going up to £180 per month.
“How on earth am I expected to pay that?
“I’m so stressed and I'm seriously considering giving up my home and moving into a shared property as I just can't afford the cost of energy.”
The annual energy price cap shot up by 54% to £1,971 in April and is expected to hit close to £3,000 in October.
Companies are also getting slower at responding to emails, responding on average to 62% of emails within two working days, compared with 66% during the same period in 2021.
Dame Clare Moriarty, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said “energy companies must do better” and called on energy regulator Ofgem to “take action where needed”.
Ofgem said it was working with suppliers to improve service, adding that “now is the time for them to up their game”.
A spokesperson for the energy watchdog said: “Our top priority is to protect consumers, and as these stats from Citizens Advice show, there are areas where customers are simply not getting the service they desperately need and rightly expect in these very difficult times.”
He added: “We are clear with suppliers — they must not use the current gas crisis as an excuse for poor performance or sharp practices; now is the time for them to up their game on how they support customers.”