SSE faces probe over neglecting storm-hit families

Winter storms battered many parts of the UK. Picture: Getty
Winter storms battered many parts of the UK. Picture: Getty
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SCOTTISH and Southern Energy is to be investigated by Ofgem following a review of the way electricity network firms handled problems customers suffered during this year’s winter storms.

The Perth-based company, alongside UK Power Networks (UKPN), was found to be the slowest in responding to customers who had lost power and in reconnecting their electricity supply after the Christmas storms.

It now faces a further investigation and a potential fine if Ofgem rules that it has breached its licensing conditions. The conditions require companies to meet specific minimum levels of customer service. Ofgem also said it is to look into increasing payments to customers without electricity for an extended period of time during severe weather.

SSE said it would work with the regulator and announced that it would introduce an emergency number for customers who find themselves without power.

Ofgem said that around one million customers of all electricity providers were without power for at least three minutes.

Around 95 per cent of them were reconnected within 24 hours, although approximately 16,000 households suffered lengthy cuts of over 48 hours. Of these, more than 500 premises in the UKPN and SSE Southern regions were without supply for over five days.

The energy watchdog’s report found that one in five callers in UKPN and SSE Southern regions decided to hang up before speaking to an adviser whilst Western Power Distribution (WPD) answered calls almost immediately.

Hannah Nixon, senior partner for distribution at Ofgem, said the watchdog would begin a consultation in May which could see it increase minimum payments for consumers who are off-supply for extended periods.

“Being without electricity is difficult for customers at the best of times, let alone during a holiday period,” she said.

“Whilst we recognise the hard work of the distribution network operational staff during the severe weather over Christmas 2013, we are very concerned with the variations in the effect of the storms on customers in different areas.”

She added: “If our further investigation into the performance of UKPN and SSE during the 2013 Christmas storms suggests that these companies have breached their licence conditions, we will undertake enforcement action that could result in a financial penalty.”

In a statement posted on the company’s website, SSE’s managing director of networks Mark Mathieson said: “Although we restored power to 97.4 per cent of our customers within two days – 99 per cent if you include those who lost power for less than three minutes – we are not complacent about our performance.

“We have already implemented a number of initiatives to improve customer communications including information on expected restoration times and improvements to our award-winning Power Track App, which gives details of engineers working in your area.”