When energy minnow OneSelect went bust, another small firm successfully bid for its 36,000 customers and took on their accounts.
It meant the Dunbartonshire-based Together Energy, which had just 100 staff of its own and outsourced a further 40 in South Africa, increased its customer total by 60 per cent — from 60,000 to 96,000 overnight.
But since then, the three-year-old firm has crashed to the bottom of consumer group Which?’s ratings table.
Refund: Jan and Bill Burrough found out Together Energy had taken over their account in December 2018 but the supplier took seven months before it gave her a first bill
Together now has 150,000 customers — 1 per cent the size of British Gas’s 15 million. But the number of letters and emails Money Mail has received about the supplier dwarfs several of its Big Six rivals.
Industry experts and customers are asking why regulator Ofgem ever allowed such a small firm to take on so many customers.
This newspaper has now handed a dossier of complaints to the supplier and Ofgem, many from readers who have been unable to get through to the supplier’s customer service team, or their emails and letters have been ignored.
Mark Todd, co-founder of price comparison site Energyhelpline, says: ‘Ofgem should make sure suppliers who take on failed customer bases are able to cope with the increased customer service demands this brings.’
He adds: ‘Often for a small company it’s a cheap way to get a large number of customers at once.’
Farmer Jan Burrough had to go to the Ombudsman to get £1,120 back from Together Energy — a year after the supplier took over her OneSelect account.
When energy minnow OneSelect went bust, Together Energy, which had just 100 staff of its own and outsourced a further 40 in South Africa, increased its customer total by 60 per cent
She had been with OneSelect for two years and had built up a large amount of credit, partly due to the fact the supplier had failed to adjust her £176-a-month bill after her son moved his business from her Devon property and her usage dropped.
Jan, 67, and husband Bill, 72, found out Together Energy had taken over their account in December 2018, and a month later she began asking for her credit refund.
She says: ‘I called and emailed, but I’d rarely get someone to pick up the phone or reply to an email.
‘When they did, I was told they were still waiting on a final bill from OneSelect.’
Jan had submitted her monthly readings through Together Energy’s website.
But the supplier took seven months before it gave her a first bill, which finally brought her bills down to £40.
Yet she was still waiting for her OneSelect balance refund, and eventually she went to the Ombudsman.
It ruled in her favour, but she didn’t get her £1,120 refund until December, plus a £40 goodwill gesture.
Together Energy later found that Jan’s OneSelect balance had been incorrect and she was actually owed a further £1,100. This refund arrived in Jan’s bank account last night.
She says: ‘They never gave us a choice when One Select went bust, but I think I’d have preferred to be switched to a Big Six supplier.’
Another former OneSelect customer, John Lyons, had to wait a year for his £239 refund. The retired postal worker applied for the credit in January 2019, and eventually took his case to the Ombudsman, which ruled in his favour in August.
But John, 73, from Southminster, Essex, didn’t receive the money until December, plus £75 compensation ordered by the Ombudsman.
Energy companies can bid to take on a collapsed firm’s customers and become a ‘supplier of last resort’.
Ofgem has the final say, but says a new supplier would have to ensure a ‘smooth transition for customers’.
Last month Together Energy’s chief executive Paul Richards apologised to customers, hours before the supplier was featured on the BBC’s Rip Off Britain show.
Together has 150,000 customers – 1% the size of British Gas’s 15 million. But the number of letters and emails we have received about the supplier dwarfs several of its Big Six rivals
In a statement on the company’s website, he wrote: ‘Taking on these customers has been a challenge… consequently, we have been late in processing final bills, our communications have deteriorated, and email response has been slow. For that I am very sorry.’
When Money Mail asked Together Energy whether, as a small supplier, it had had the resources to take on so many customers at once, it pointed the finger at OneSelect.
It said it inherited a lot of ‘wrongly calculated bills’ from OneSelect, and the supplier had been at the bottom of Citizens Advice customer service table when it collapsed.
An Ofgem spokesman says: ‘We are aware of customer concerns and continue to engage closely with Together Energy as it works to improve its performance.’
Auto-switching doesn’t pay
Households using automatic energy switching services could be overpaying by £70 a year because firms are failing to do proper comparisons, charity Citizens Advice has warned.
Auto-switching services promise to keep bill-payers on the cheapest possible tariff by constantly comparing deals on the market.
Yet Citizens Advice says some compare tariffs from fewer than 15 out of around 70 possible energy suppliers.
The result is some customers are paying £70 a year more than if they’d found a good deal and switched themselves.
The charity, which is calling for regulation of the services, says some auto-switchers provide inaccurate or unclear information, making it difficult for consumers to make informed choices.
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