‘Abysmal’ performance of energy companies causing long delays in reletting homes, says GWSF

‘Abysmal’ performance of energy companies causing long delays in reletting homes, says GWSF

Void properties are remaining empty for unnecessary periods of time because housing association staff are spending tens of thousands of hours trying to contact energy suppliers to sort out meter problems, according to the Glasgow and West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations (GWSF).

Associations have voiced their concerns to the Forum that tenants waiting to move into their homes are facing weeks and sometimes months of unnecessary delay because of what they describe as the “abysmal” performance of some energy suppliers.

Citing quotes from a recent survey, GWSF said its members, who are losing hundreds of thousands of pounds of rental income, are increasingly frustrated with the ordeal.

A member of staff said: “I can hold for an hour only to be cut off. I am told regularly that a card will appear to clear the debit and it never appears resulting in countless phone calls and a waste of time.”

Another told the Forum: “I have been told they can only deal with one property per call. Any time I have had to call them in the last 3 months I have been on the phone for over 90 minutes.”

Some members have reported particularly acute frustrations with ScottishPower.

One housing association said: “One tenant was so distraught I called ScottishPower myself and started my call at 10.00am and it was answered at 3.55pm!

Another added: “Can spend hours on the phone waiting to get through them, they either cut you off or hang up. If you do get through they will only deal with one issue during the call. They put you on hold and then cut you off mid-call so you are back to the start.”

GWSF was also told: “Overall, the service from ScottishPower is disgraceful. It has gotten to the stage that whenever there is a void the staff are exasperated if it turns out that the energy supplier is SP. We have lost countless number of hours in dealing with this particular energy company for what should be a very simple process and should only take a few minutes to resolve.”

The Forum believes that historic, high-profile cases of people dying after having their energy supply cut off have led to issues with void property being completely deprioritised.

GWSF director David Bookbinder said: “No-one’s going to die in an empty home, and so housing associations can face huge struggles trying to sort out meter problems in void properties. A few years ago, void turnaround among our member associations was around 20 days. Our last Charter report (2021/22) found the average was 39 days, and there are real worries that in 2022/23 the average relet period could be longer still.

“And that’s just the average – in some cases we know of, it has taken up to a year to sort things out in specific properties.

“Some energy companies are better than others, and we constantly share with our members feedback from other associations which might help them find solutions. But if a meter has to be dealt with by a particular company, you’re stuck with that company and its level of customer service, which may well be dire.

“Having seen the response from ScottishPower, our members feel It beggars belief that a company who cause so much strife to them appear blissfully unaware that there’s even a problem – really that says it all. GWSF would happily work with any energy company to help improve things for housing associations, but that needs the company to recognise that their level of customer service needs substantial improvement.”

ScottishPower failed to respond to the individual concerns presented by GWSF, but told Scottish Housing News it was “committed to providing the best possible service for customers”.

A spokesperson added: “We saw record contact volumes in the last quarter of 2022 and took the decision to prioritise calls from our most vulnerable customers, who needed to speak to us the most. We also took additional steps to help support customers during that time, including extending our contact centre opening hours, introducing 24/7 webchat, and bringing in additional customer service advisors.

“Our average call answering times are tracking at around 4-5mins currently but we appreciate that some customers have waited longer previously. Where possible we actively encourage customers to ‘self-serve’ using our online support to get the information or assistance they need as quickly as possible.”

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