nPower - appalling customer service and the invisibility cloak of 'data protection'.

#1
We have been a dual fuel customer of nPower for about 12 years, the last 8 as holiday-let landlords whilst we've been serving overseas. Their customer service has been tragic to say the least. In March we received a hectoring letter demanding a considerable amount of detail about our property and activities therein. I rang the so-called help line using the number given in the letter and no one would own up to the letter and it was suggested that we ignore it.

Two weeks later we received another letter, threatening to pass our details across to HMRC if we didn't respond. The letter claimed that because of the high energy consumption, we may have been business users, and therefore attracted climate change levies and a different VAT rate. I rang the helpline again to seek clarification and after being told that our property had popped up because 'it didn't have a street number and it seemed big' and it was suggested that we fill in the forms and submit them - which I did that day. Two weeks passed and another letter turned up threatening dire consequences if we didn't send them this information. I rang them again - from overseas at about £3 per minute - and they accepted that they had received the information and they apologised about the letter; I also asked (again) that all correspondence be sent by email, and to their credit I did receive an email closing down the issue and confirming that holiday lets were specifically outside the scope of this 'investigation'.

Fast forward two months - and three more threatening letters. I had lodged a formal complaint with nPower and requested on two occasions transcriptions of the calls via SARs (which have still yet to be produced). Finally last month, I received another letter stating that our accounts were suspended until the matter had been resoled 'to nPower's satisfaction'.

At this point I hit the roof, compounded by finding that nPower had put a credit marker that appeared on an Equifax search. I spent an hour and a half on the phone - showing we were in credit by several hundred pounds (the monthly bills paid by direct debit are in the order of £200). It transpires that 'no one' within nPower can make overseas calls, and they would not refund my call cost, because they offer 'free phone' lines. I also asked why Equifax had been notified and I was met with the catch-all 'Data Protection says no', so then lodged this as a complaint. Meanwhile I received another apology for the letters 'sent by computer' and was assured no more would be sent.

About a month ago we looked at the rising energy prices and decided to change to a local 'ethical provider' who are about £30 pcm cheaper. They contacted me yesterday to advise that nPower cannot permit the switch as our account was 'under investigation'. Coincidentally I received a 'final offer' by email to my original complaint and offered £50 ex gratia for the distress that we suffered becasue of the letters being sent without merit. I rang them back and asked why they would not allow us to switch suppliers (bearing our accounts are well in credit) and asked why they didn't respond to my further complaint about notifying credit agencies that our account had been suspended. They couldn't/wouldn't answer.

I have been promised a response 'within 8 weeks'. I have pressed the matter through to the Executive Complaints Team and asked to speak with the person who signs the letters - Head of Customer Relations, -only to be told because of 'data protection' they couldn't say who this was (even though their signature block is shown), adding that the person is 'non customer facing'.

So apart from venting my frustration, where do I go to from here? They are stopping us changing suppliers for no valid reason; they hold several hundred pounds of our cash. I might take it to Trading Standards but they are unlikely to address the credit markers; I could try the regulator but the investigation could take 6 or more months. How about I shame them on social media?
 
#2
@Crash
It's bloody frustrating.
The Ombudsman is usually a good place to start but that could take months and, given what you write, the degree of 'slopey-shoulderness' you've encountered would probably result in more protracted proceedings.
For a civvie, an answer would lie in the 4th Estate, e.g. 'Money box Live ' , 'The World at One' , even 'Money Mail, or similar.
That would not be open to you.
Why not go the 'Wives' Club' route?
 
#3
Start a complaint via the regulator now anyway, even if you hope to resolve the issue by other means, it gives you a 'backstop'.
 
#5
@Crash
Not a lot of help to your specific issues but on the 2 occasions I have been "stalled" by customer services- not npower but 1) BT and 2) my electricity supplier- I wrote direct to the respective CEOs to complain.
Problems got sorted quickly
 
#6
If you have asked twice for SAR and have not received a reply, complain to the Information Commissioner's Office. They will contact npower directly and give them a very short formal deadline to reply to you (not necessarily to agree to your request, though hopefully they will, but to at least reply).
 
#8
@Crash,
Get back onto the Executive complaints dept detailling all of the oustanding issues (SAR's, blocking your switch to another supplier, Etc) and give them 10 working days to resolve them to your satisfaction otherwise you will escalate the issues to the relevant authorities (Ofgem, ICO).
Given the length of time they have had to resolve the issues, I would suggest that you are within your rights to approach the regulators before exhausting NPower's complaints process as they have patently demonstrated that they are unable or unwilling to resolve it satisfactorily themselves.
 
#9
Regulator - always good start point.

Write to the Money section of Times or Telegraph - they love stories like this, and they have a habit of going quickly once the press get involved - particularly for a bally war hero like your goodself!
 
#10
Regulator - always good start point.

Write to the Money section of Times or Telegraph - they love stories like this, and they have a habit of going quickly once the press get involved - particularly for a bally war hero like your goodself!
I thought @Crash was ex RAF??:p
 
#11
Thanks for the swift replies. I am loathed to to go too public because of the sensitivities of my job and where I work but I might speak with our MP given how many holiday lets in the Lake District which will have received similar letters.
 
#12
Thanks for the swift replies. I am loathed to to go too public because of the sensitivities of my job and where I work but I might speak with our MP given how many holiday lets in the Lake District which will have received similar letters.
You could speak to the Times, they'd probably put you down as 'former registered bestiality sex offender Crash' or some other title to prevent you from being embarrassed by your real job...
 
#13
As others have said chap, go with the regulator, plus any written comms with Npower sent direct to the CEOs office.
A mate had something similar a few years ago with scottish energy his gas supplier. Total incompetents but as soon as the regulator got involved it got sorted toot suit.
 
#14
Npower are the worst. The best advice I can offer is to do the sums yourself before you ring, do stick with it, and remember they're trying it on. Also always write down everything they say.
 

AlienFTM

MIA
Book Reviewer
#15
Another option. Find out who is the CEO and email him with chapter and verse. Worked for me with BY and maybe others (can't remember, getting old). CEO at BT had a Spanish Inquisition team for anything that got to him.
 
#19
I'd write to Paul Coffey with something like:

Dear Mr Coffey,

I have been subjected to a very expensive, damaging and very probably illegal process by your company, the details and history of which are to be found attached. In essence, I have been falsely accused of running a business that would attract higher charges. I have called from overseas at my own (exorbitant) cost to resolve this issue several times, and each time been told that it is settled, only for the threatening letters to resume. Nobody at your organization seems to want to take responsibility for the company's actions.

As you will be acutely aware, the buck stops with the CEO. I would have resolved this lower down in the org chart, but that has been a waste of time when your staff obfuscate and hide behind regulations intended to protect data rather than bat off responsibility. I am therefore writing to you personally to address this debacle.

I would be grateful for your personal commitment in resolving this issue without further delay. Customer service drives churn and is therefore a quantifiable cost. The "customer service" that your company has inflicted upon me has been nothing short of appalling.

I look forward to hearing back this week,

Yours,

Frustrated of Ouagadougou (occasionally Kendal).
 

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