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Council-backed energy firm working with outsourced telesales centres in South Africa

A COUNCIL-BACKED energy company has confirmed it works with six outsourced telesales contact centres in South Africa that have 90 staff allocated to its campaigns.

But Scottish firm Together Energy says it only has one of its own members of staff based in South Africa, with the other 129 located in Clydebank.

Warrington Borough Council is putting £18 million into the company, as well as providing a £4 million loan to it.

Together Energy finished bottom of the Which? energy provider table and has received many complaints from users.

It said it is looking to recruit around 25 members of staff in Warrington and that it recently attended a careers fair in the town to help achieve this aim.

But concerns have been raised from customers following adverts online for vacancies in a South Africa call centre for work on a Together Energy campaign.

However, the issue has sparked a response from the company.

A spokesman said: “We do not have any sites in South Africa.

“We had a customer service function in South Africa to help us with the Supplier of Last Resort volumes which has now been closed and the function moved back to Clydebank.

“We work with six outsourced telesales contact centres in South Africa who have around 90 staff allocated to campaigns for Together Energy including a small sales verification team.

“These companies also sell for many other UK energy suppliers including most of the ‘big six’ energy companies.

“The adverts are for these companies trying to recruit people to work on our campaign.

“They are not our adverts or our employees.

“Our one full-time employee in South Africa manages these relationships and the necessary compliance for these centres.”

The firm says it is not directly recruiting for any field sales agents in Clydebank or any telesales agents in South Africa.

There was also an advertisement online for a national fields associate role in Clydebank to sell Together Energy products.

The spokesman added: “We also work in the UK with two outsourced field sales companies, who sell our tariffs and again recruit for people to sell Together Energy products.

“They are not employed by us and the job referred to is for one of these companies not us.”

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Eon lost HALF A MILLION customers in 2019 as households continue to switch away from the Big Six energy suppliers

Eon lost 500,000 customers in Britain last year with its profits also taking a bashing thanks to the energy price cap, its results revealed today.

The Big Six supplier, which is German-owned, is likely to have lost customers as a result of more households switching providers than ever before – with many moving away from the largest suppliers. 

The price cap will also have had an effect as suppliers are only allowed to charge a maximum of £1,162 for standard variable tariff customers.

Despite losing customers, Eon said its total earnings before tax and interest increased to £2.9billion in 2019, and it expects earnings to increase again in 2020.

However, it admitted it hadn’t factored in the current downturn in the economy amid coronavirus fears, adding that it has seen customers across Europe consuming less energy as a result of the pandemic. 

Johannes Teyssen, Eon chief executive, said: ‘Industrial and commercial customers are consuming noticeably less energy. 

‘This will have a temporary impact on our network and sales businesses. There may be delays in our ability to deliver energy infrastructure projects.

He added: ‘Energy utilities have a special significance for critical infrastructure in this crisis and thus a special responsibility. 

‘We will do everything in our power to ensure supply security, even in this situation.’

It said the energy sector ‘won’t be as hard hit by other industries’ but will still feel an impact from the pandemic. 

During the coronavirus outbreak, Eon confirmed that it will not disconnect financially vulnerable customers from its network to ensure continued supply. 

It added that its core business saw operating arms post ‘solid earnings’ last year, although customer solutions saw earnings slip by £90.9million due to price caps and the fall in UK accounts. 

Victoria Arrington at Energy Helpline said: ‘The Big Six has been losing customers for some time – so Eon’s loss of 500,000 UK accounts in 2019 is no big surprise. 

‘Established suppliers are facing intense battles in an ever-changing industry for customer loyalty.

‘The marketplace is becoming more and more competitive. Customers are switching at record rates – and it’s unsurprising, since there are so many bargain tariffs appearing all the time. 

‘That said, Eon clearly recognises that customers crave savings, with their best tariff deal is £318 cheaper than their default tariff.

‘With so many cheap tariffs available, it’s clear that complacency can be costly. 

‘Customers who switch supplier could save up to £378 a year on energy, with the average customer saving £280 annually – so it pays to shop around.

‘Eon has made some intriguing moves recently – from putting all of their customers on to renewable energy, to taking on the customer base of npower. 

‘It will continue to be interesting to see what new developments they bring to the industry.’ 

During the coronavirus outbreak, the Government and energy suppliers have teamed up to put emergency measures in place.

This includes ensuring that prepayment and pay as you go customers who cannot leave home can speak to their provider about staying supplied, steps that should benefit over four million households. 

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SSE intends to pay dividend despite COVID-19 disruption

Energy giant SSE has confirmed it remains “confident” about its long-term performance in spite of the disruption caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Ahead of the publication of its full year results, the firm stated that its board intends to recommend a full-year dividend of 80 pence per share for 2019/20, as the pandemic has not yet had a “material impact” on the group’s results.

However, SSE has stressed that the board may reconsider the timing of the dividend payment as the effects of the coronavirus become more apparent.

Gregor Alexander, finance director at SSE, commented: “In common with everyone else, our overriding priority is supporting efforts to contain and delay the spread of Covid-19 – helping communities, customers and colleagues through this exceptionally difficult time.

“Covid-19 is having an exceptional human, social and economic impact and dealing with that must be our overriding priority.

“Nevertheless, as a clean infrastructure company with first class assets and practical solutions to the critical problem of climate change and achievement of net zero emissions, we remain confident about the long-term opportunities for SSE.”

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COVID-19 Update

Good Evening,

I am sure you are aware there is currently a heightened awareness of the risks associated with the Coronavirus.


At this moment we are able to maintain full-service continuity, however, should this be affected we are taking actions to ensure we can maintain this throughout any disruptions to business COVID-19 may entail. We do not foresee any lack of ability to continue supplying energy contracts to both suppliers and our customers and would like to reassure you that we have a detailed business continuity plan in place, which includes measures to prepare for disruption to our usual business activity.


Within our office procedures have been actioned to protect and control the possible spread of the virus within our offices. In the event that a member of staff does need to take leave, we will believe we will be able to maintain our steadfast business service whilst protecting all of our employees as necessary.


So, what have we done to protect ourselves from the impact of Covid-19?
• Provided hand sanitiser and disinfectant spray per employee
• postponed any meetings or business gatherings that have been arranged
• Expressed the need for Restricted travel outside of work
• Implemented social rules within the office block
• Currently not allowing any visitors to enter the office
• Generously separated our employee’s workspace
• Our offices are deep cleaned twice daily.
• The opportunity for employees to work from home will be available within the next few days.


We are following and will continue to follow advice and protocols issue by the government, taking the health and safety of our clients and employees very seriously, working extremely hard to minimise disruption to business. We appreciate your understanding during this challenging time.
Should you have any questions we will be happy to hear from you. You can reply to this email or speak to a member of our lovely team by calling 0161 241 9335.

Yours sincerely,

Jenny Allen
Director of Business Utilities UK

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Millions of households set for energy bill break due to coronavirus crisis

But commuters who usually travel to work using rail season tickets could find themselves out of pocket because of ‘completely unfair’ rules

Millions of households could be given a break from energy bills as a growing number of companies have sent employees home amid the coronavirus crisis, The Telegraph can reveal.

EDF Energy, which has five million customers and is one of the biggest utility firms in the country, said it would consider offering delayed payments to anyone who is affected by the outbreak.

The news comes after the Government warned that as many as a fifth of employees could be off work at the same time, disrupting regular travel plans and increasing power use.

Consumer experts hit out at rail firms for only offering partial refunds to those who are told to work from home as offices across the country sit empty.

High street banks have already offered mortgage repayment holidays to affected customers as the financial toll of the crisis worsens.

The Telegraph understands that energy bosses are in regular communication with the Government and regulators to determine how best to support customers who may run into financial difficulty.

A spokesman for EDF said: “We recognise that over the coming weeks Covid-19 may have an impact on our customers, and we are prepared to offer these customers additional support and flexibility.

“Each case would be looked at on an individual basis, but additional support we could offer may include repayments made over a longer period of time, delay payment for a short period or offer alternative payment arrangements.”

Government advice is that anyone with persistent coronavirus symptoms should remain isolated for seven days.

Those who usually travel to work using a rail season ticket could find themselves out of pocket because of rules blasted as “completely unfair” by a consumer group.

Martyn James, from consumer complaints service Resolver, said the rules could mean many commuters lose out simply for following their company’s advice.

Customers can ask for money back, but they will not receive the full unused value of their and will have to pay an administration fee.

Those who have used the majority of their ticket would not be entitled to a refund.

Mr James said the period used to calculate the refund is arbitrary and may not reflect price variations over the year.

A weekly ticket from Brighton to London costs around £105 while a day return ticket can cost £44.

That means someone returning their ticket after four days of use would receive nothing back.

Customers are also charged an administration fee of up to £10.

Commuters can temporarily “suspend” their season ticket if they are ill. They will be refunded for the time for which they were unable to use it.

To receive their money back customers must supply a medical certificate.

Transport for London, which runs the London Underground, said it is waiving its £5 administration fee for those who need to self-isolate.

A spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group, a trade body, said rail firms understand these are “exceptional times” and that travellers should check their entitlement with National Rail Enquiries.

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Latest quarterly transparency report on NI’s retail energy market published

The Quarterly Transparency Report (QTR) for Q4 2019 is the latest of a series of Utility Regulator reports that provide a range of information about the retail energy market in Northern Ireland.

The QTR presents data collected by the UR as part of the Retail Energy Market Monitoring (REMM) framework. REMM requires network companies and suppliers to submit data on a range of indicators to enhance UR transparency around market behaviours and regulatory compliance.  We use the information outlined in the report to review the progress and impact of supply competition; build knowledge for regulatory decisions; comply with EU Third Package mandatory requirements on market monitoring; allow other interested stakeholders to understand more readily the activity within our energy markets; and to help promote the interests of consumers.

QTR Q4 2019

 The key developments during quarter 4 are as follows:

  • Market activity in the electricity domestic and I&C sectors continues to illustrate a gradual change in the market dynamics. Power NI (the incumbent price controlled electricity supplier) retain their dominant position with 55.7% of connections in the domestic market with continued growth of the competing suppliers.
  • Electricity switching activity in Q4 2019 has increased from the previous quarter. Domestic customers continue to engage in the electricity market with over 37,000 switches completed during Q4 2019, compared to 25,000 the previous quarter. There was notable increase in Budget Energy’s connections for this quarter (>11,000). I&C electricity switching also increased to a switching rate of 5.0% (from 1.6% in the previous quarter), with over 3,700 switches completed. 
  • In the gas sector, I&C switching activity decreased in Greater Belfast with the I&C switching rate decreasing from 1.0% in Q3 2019 to 0.8% in Q4 2019. However, the I&C switching rate for Ten Towns increased from 0.9% to 1.3% for the same period.
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Lords Committees come together on the climate change challenge

tarting next week, five House of Lords committees will be examine some of the ways climate change will affect specific policy areas, and what action the Government is taking to prepare for COP26, the UN climate change conference the UK is hosting in November.

On 11, 12 and 18 March, five House of Lords committees will consider climate change from five different angles, exploring how it will affect specific policy areas and what the Government’s response should be. Following these evidence sessions, on 25 March members from each committee will come together to challenge the Government on what action it is taking and scrutinise preparations for COP26, the UN climate change conference the UK is hosting in November.

The dates and times of the sessions will be as follows:
• Wednesday 11 March, 11am: climate change and migration
• Wednesday 11 March, midday: international carbon markets
• Thursday 12 March, 10am: climate change and international development
• Thursday 12 March, 10.15am and 11.30am: state aid and meeting climate targets
• Wednesday 18 March, 10:15am: Mark Carney on green finance
• Wednesday 25 March, 3.30pm: Rt Hon Alok Sharma MP and President of COP 26, on climate change and COP26


Speaking ahead of the series of evidence sessions, Lord Teverson, Chair of the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee, said:
“Climate change is an emergency. The repeated serious flooding here in the UK is just one of the many ways global warming is already taking its toll. That’s why five House of Lords committees have uniquely come together to examine this emergency.
“These sessions will shed light on a number of those diverse climate change challenges that now confront us. Our follow up will be pressing ministers on how the Government intends to move forward. With COP26 only months away, clear and focused responses from minsters will be essential.”


All of these evidence sessions will be open to the public. They can also be followed live on parliamentlive.tv

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Decrease to SSE Airtricity Gas Supply’s tariff welcomed by Utility Regulator

The Utility Regulator has welcomed SSE Airtricity Gas Supply’s announcement that it will be reducing its regulated gas tariff in the Greater Belfast area by 18.7% from the 1 April 2020.

Jenny Pyper, Chief Executive of the Utility Regulator said:

“I am delighted to welcome SSE Airtricity Gas Supply’s reduction of 18.7%, which is great news for their domestic and small business customers[i] in the Greater Belfast area. The key driver for this tariff change is the significant decrease in wholesale gas costs. There is also an over recovery from the current tariff period that is being returned to customers in this new tariff.

“We started this tariff review process in February 2020, which included a thorough analysis of all SSE Airtricity Gas Supply cost elements. Their customers can therefore be confident, that due to our regulation, their bills reflect the actual costs of supplying gas to their homes and businesses.

“This reduction brings SSE Airtricity’s prices to below where they were in 2017 and will result in a saving of around £108 a year for their customers. This new tariff will continue to be the lowest in the UK and RoI. The new tariff will be 12% lower that the GB price cap average and 36% cheaper than the Bord Gais standard tariff in RoI.

“As always, we will continue to look ahead and monitor SSE Airtricity Gas Supply’s cost elements and should any movements require a tariff change, we will act as soon as possible to ensure this is reflected in customer bills.

“In relation to electricity, we have begun a review with Power NI regarding their domestic regulated tariffs and expect an announcement in the coming months. Whilst we can’t pre-empt the outcome, given the falls being seen in wholesale prices, I would be hopeful of a positive outcome for electricity consumers before the summer.”

The tariff decrease will come into effect from 1 April 2020. Today’s announcement follows the ongoing tariff review process that is carried out by SSE Airtricity Gas Supply and the Utility Regulator, in consultation with the Department for the Economy and the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland.

briefing paper is also available.

ENDS

Notes to editor

  • For further information, please contact Adele Boyle on 028 9031 6664 or 07787 279584.
  • The Utility Regulator is the independent non-ministerial government department responsible for regulating the electricity and gas industries and water and sewerage services in Northern Ireland.
  • This tariff review commenced in February 2020 and covers around 166,000 customers in the Greater Belfast area. The review also covers customers in the Gas to the West area where a number of customers are connected.  
  • The average domestic customer will see their bills decrease by around £108 per year and the average bill will fall to around £468 per year.
  • The SSE Airtricity Gas Supply standard tariff is 12% lower than the average of the GB price cap.  Both have VAT rates of 5%.
  • The SSE Airtricity Gas Supply standard tariff is 36% lower than the Bord Gais standard gas tariff in the RoI. This includes VAT at 13.5% in RoI and 5% in NI.
  • The Greater Belfast area covers: South, West, East and North Belfast; Carrickfergus; Newtownabbey; Duncrue and Harbour; Lisburn; Carryduff; Castlereagh; Ballygowan; Newtownards; Larne; and North Down.

[i] Business customers using less than 73,200 kWh per year.

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Supporting retail market innovation for net zero

Ofgem recently published its Decarbonisation Action Plan. This set out our priorities and the steps we will take as a regulator to help achieve ‘net zero’ at lowest cost. One of those priorities is to accelerate innovation to create products and services that help consumers use energy in ways that supports decarbonisation.

Empowered consumers will be central to fair and effective decarbonisation. Ultimately, a diverse range of products and services need to be made available to consumers, empowering them to change the way they use energy in order to meet and benefit from the net zero challenge.

We’ve been speaking to innovators and investors to understand their experiences and realise we need to continue to adapt our approach to regulation to better enable innovative consumer offerings. This means Ofgem being more proactive and using our existing powers to provide the flexibility innovators need to bring new products and services to market. 

So, what can you expect over the coming months? Our plans centre around: 

  1. the launch of an expanded Innovation Sandbox Service 
  2. extending our ability to provide relief from certain supplier obligations
  3. a more permissive approach to granting supply licences restricted by geography or premises type.

Enabling innovators to test and trial

Testing new ideas allows us and businesses to understand how consumers actually react and respond to new products and services. Yet there are times when it is not always clear whether an idea is possible or not under existing rules and regulations. 

Our Sandbox service was launched in 2017 to experiment with ways of mitigating barriers when innovative plans didn’t readily fit with the rulebook. This includes the BP and Tonik trial of a new platform for trading customers’ small scale exports with other consumers. We now have a much better handle on what kinds of support innovators are looking for, and are expanding our Innovation Sandbox Service

As part of this, we are widening the scope of rules that can be relaxed for innovative trials beyond the Ofgem rulebook to cover some of the main industry codes. This includes the rules for electricity balancing and settlement (BSC), rules around the connection to, and use of, the electricity distribution networks (DCUSA), and code requirements relating to retail energy activities (REC).

We also want to better use derogations from the rulebook so that experimentation, trialling and testing can flourish. This means taking a more permissive approach and we will consult shortly on expanding the number of rules that we can provide relief from. 

Bringing innovative ideas to market

Many innovators have told us that they want to specialise in the products and services they bring to market, focusing on offerings within their expertise. This could include local or regional suppliers, social enterprises focused on vulnerable customers, or those delivering flexibility solutions. To help with this, we’ll be providing greater clarity on when we might grant restricted supply licences – that enable a business to focus on particular geographies or types of premises. We’ll say more on restricted licences and the potential for greater use of derogations to deliver innovative ideas shortly.

Innovators often approach us with ideas that blur the boundaries of the traditional definitions of generation, distribution and supply. These activities typically aren’t prescribed for in law which can undermine the confidence of innovators, investors, and consumers. Many of you think that we should be able to confirm whether a type of activity is permissible (as well as what isn’t), and we agree. This means we’ll confirm to innovators that what they’re trying to do is allowable within today’s regulatory framework, without going as far as endorsing particular business models.

Helping navigate complexity

We’re regularly reminded of just how complex the energy sector can be and we want to help the industry and new entrants navigate this complexity effectively.

Today, we’re outlining our view of how Ofgem and government reforms will help improve the environment for innovation and competition in the retail energy market by 2024. This is accompanied by refreshed guidance on what you need to know, and what you need to do, if you want to sell electricity to consumers

We’ll provide more guidance in other areas as we go forward – including on how longer-term contracts fit with the current rules. And we stand ready to amend or remove rules where these are getting in the way of good outcomes for consumers. We want to work with innovators and industry to help drive innovation so welcome your views and input

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Fears raised over Bristol Energy after suggestions it could need more public money

Speculation is mounting about the future of Bristol Energy after city council leaders hinted they might have to throw even more money at the loss-making company.

Opposition councillors expressed “very grave doubt” that the budget passed by full council on Tuesday (February 25) is legal amid fears it could mess up the balance sheet, and by law, local authorities must set balanced budgets.

The concerns stem from an “urgent” confidential report to next week’s cabinet which overview & scrutiny management board (OSMB) chairman and Tory Cllr Geoff Gollop said was “of such significance” that the budget meeting should have been postponed to allow all 70 councillors to read it.

Labour deputy mayor Craig Cheney insisted the mystery papers, whose details were not revealed, “did not materially affect the budget”.

He told the full council meeting: “We have adequate risk reserves should we need to draw down on them should we need to deal with any issues arising from that paper.”

It comes just a month after cabinet members approved the energy firm’s five-year business plan amid assurances that it did not need any further public cash.

Bristol City Council has already pumped £37million into the company.

However, the business has posted total losses so far of £29.7million, including £10.1million in 2018/19, its third year of trading.

It was initially expected to be in profit by 2019/20. But in December, Peter Beange, executive chairman of Bristol Holding, which oversees Bristol Energy, told OSMB councillors that the firm’s break-even point remained 2023/24 .

He told members: “Bristol Energy is not seeking any investments nor increased collateral within this business plan. However, its risks remain significant.

“The key risks to Bristol Energy are not dissimilar from a lot of energy companies in that it needs to secure its customer base, there is tremendous volatility of the energy sector and that might lead to a credit gap and dependency on the council for collateral coverage.”

Whether the situation has changed within a matter of weeks is now open to speculation with an exempt report, thought to contain commercially sensitive information, going to cabinet on March 3, that has alarmed Cllr Gollop.

He told full council: “The implications of the item on the cabinet agenda are of such significance that all members of this council should access it before full council considers this budget, not just members of cabinet.

“To have not had access could risk the setting of an ultra vires budget [without legal authority].

“I understand the sudden urgency of this cabinet item but to not refer to it in the (full council) papers is appalling, and for the mayor and deputy mayor to have not alluded to it in their presentations is unacceptable.”

He said he had only received access to the report minutes before full council began.

“It is inappropriate that the only time members can read something of such significance is actually during the debate when they are setting the budget,” Cllr Gollop said.

“I am not allowed in public session to explain my concerns further, so I apologise to members of the public that I’m talking in riddles but I cannot breach confidentiality.”

Cllr Cheney said: “I have been assured that that paper does not materially affect the budget.

“We have adequate risk reserves should we need to draw down on them should we need to deal with any issues arising from that paper.”

Cllr Gollop replied: “I understand why Cllr Cheney is saying that but if we could have a debate about it, I could explain why I believe it is significant and why members need at least to be aware of the potential significance when deciding whether to approve the budget today or not.

“If that budget is potentially illegal then I think that will be very dangerous.”

City council finance director Denise Murray said: “I have reviewed the details and been party to the drafting of the report.

“There is sufficient contingency risk reserves to deal with any risk to which the council is exposed.

“The budget itself is robust and the paper does not impact on the budget.”

Legal and democratic services director Tim O’Gara said: “I have also been privy to the drafting of the report and I’m satisfied that the council can proceed to set a lawful budget this afternoon without further consideration of a report which will be duly considered by cabinet next week.”

Cllr Gollop said: “Professionally I have a different interpretation of the financial position and I believe there is a potential impact fundamentally on the council’s budget and balance sheet.

“I find it very frustrating that we can’t have a debate about it because I cannot explain why I have those concerns.

“But I cannot let a budget go through without registering my very grave doubt.”

Cllr Cheney said: “The paper will go to OSMB next week so there is the opportunity for councillors to scrutinise and review that paperwork.”

Tory group leader Cllr Mark Weston said: “I don’t know what is in that report but the fact we’re having to get assurance that even if the worst happened it wouldn’t affect the budget makes me wonder what the hell is in there.