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Power firm will face the eagle eye.

Byline: Richard Warburton

Birmingham-based energy company npower was put on probation by the industry regulator yesterday after a deluge of complaints from consumers about the firm's marketing activities.

Ofgem said between January and October last year it received an average of 100 complaints a month about the gas and electricity company, which took over Midland Electricity Board (MEB).

An Ofgem spokesman said the average level of complaints from all other companies under its regulation was about 25 a month.

People had complained about npower's high-pressure doorstep selling techniques, arguing they had been misled into signing contracts when they thought they were only agreeing to receive information.

There were also complaints from across the country that it had not given customers enough information about the service it was offering.

As a result, the regulator has agreed a series of undertakings with npower to improve its marketing performance.

The company, which is owned by Swindon-based Innogy - formerly National Power - and has an annual turnover of pounds 1.57 billion, will have to provide Ofgem with written monthly reports on its marketing activities, and hold regular meetings with managers from the regulator's supply directorate.

Ofgem managing director for customers and supply John Neilson said: 'npower has said it is confident they can resolve these problems with their marketing.

'We shall monitor npower's performance in this area closely over the coming year.'

The undertakings will remain in force for 12 months after which, if npower has not sorted out the situation, Ofgem will have the option of enforcing more requirements, restricting the company's marketing activities or imposing a fine.

npower yesterday said it regretted any inconvenience or worry caused to customers who had complained.

Although the majority of its sales agents did an excellent job, it conceded there had been some 'unsatisfactory performance' leading to a rise in complaints.

'We have taken on board Ofgem's concerns on this issue. We have accepted the challenges Ofgem has posed us, whilst also expecting to maintain and build on our largely successful sales performance,' it added.

This is not the first time Ofgem has shown its regulatory teeth.

Last year it forced gas and electricity company Independent Energy to stop taking on new domestic and small business customers after complaints about the firm's invoicing and billing.

In a separate announcement, Ofgem said yesterday final tests on NETA, the New Electricity Trading Arrangements, would begin on Monday.

NETA is replacing the Electricity Pool as the central marketplace where suppliers buy and sell electricity. The programme should be running by March 27.

Comment, Page 12

Fact File

Ofgem (The office of gas and electricity markets) was formed in July 1999 when gas regulator Ofgas joined with electricity regulator Offer

British Gas and the Electricity Board were privatised in 1993

Since May 1999, when full competition was in place, 12 million homes have changed suppliers

Ofgem set up energywatch in 1998 for any member of the public with a complaint against their energy supplier. energywatch can be called on 0880 887777
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 1, 2001
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