THE volume of complaints to Scottish Citizens Advice Bureaux about methods and techniques of gas and electricity sales rocketed sevenfold last year, according to a report published today.
The findings reflect problems with mis-selling and doorstep selling in the industry which led to substantial fines for several energy suppliers in 2013.
Overall, the Citizens Advice service dealt with 9,869 issues relating to energy in 2012-2013 – an increase of 4 per cent on the previous year, according to a snapshot of consumer problems with the energy industry in Scotland.
The number of problems relating to dangerous and unsafe goods more than doubled, according to the report from Citizens Advice Scotland, while 3,648 people came to advisers with problems paying fuel costs in the wake of spiralling bills.
The energy industry has come under the spotlight in recent months as hikes in the cost of utilities, coupled with increases in profits at the major suppliers, have angered customers.
Last year, a number of firms, including Perth-based SSE and Npower, were fined by regulator Ofgem for breaching doorstep or phone sales rules.
The report showed the number of complaints about selling by energy companies rose 581 per cent from 111 to 756.
“Too many consumers in Scotland experience problems with their energy supply, leading to cold homes and empty wallets – not to mention a lack of trust in the industry,” said Citizens Advice Scotland’s consumer spokesperson Sarah Beattie-Smith.
“Nobody should be faced with the stark choice of heating or eating but the cases in our report show Scottish households face that choice day in, day out.”
A spokesman for industry body Energy UK, which represents utilities companies, said: “Accusations of mis-selling by Energy UK members are misleading and simply risk putting people off seeking out deals and support. Our members do not doorstep sell and have not done so since early 2012.
“No business wants unhappy customers and our members take complaints very seriously.
“Most problems are fixed by a quick call to your energy supplier but the Energy Ombudsman is there when problems persist.”
He added: “We all know some consumers are concerned about rising bills but plenty of help is available. No-one should be afraid to put the heating on.”
A spokesman for regulator Ofgem said: “We are resetting the energy market in consumers’ favour to make it simpler, clear and fairer.
“Extra protection for consumers on fixed prices is just one of a range of reforms we are bringing in over the next six months to hold energy companies to higher standards.
“If suppliers fail to deliver, then Ofgem stands ready to take enforcement action to protect consumers.”