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Watchdogs failing

PAC slams Energywatch and Postwatch

MPs in a select committee have branded the consumer watchdogs Energywatch and Postwatch ‘feeble’.

The damning report by the  Public Accounts Committee (PAC), published today, accuses both of failing to stem the ‘huge numbers of complaints’ that consumers continue to have about wrong energy bills and lost mail.

PAC Chairman Edward Leigh MP said:’The two bodies set up in 2000 to represent and advise consumers in the energy and postal markets…are performing feebly… Energywatch and Postwatch need to …start firing on all cylinders.’

The government founded Energywatch and Postwatch to be consumer advocates. Their brief was to investigate complaints, to represent complainants against energy suppliers and Royal Mail and to provide advice. They have no regulatory powers.

In December 2002, Which? published a report on Energywatch. We found its advice was patchy and hardly anyone had heard of it.

The PAC also accused the two bodies, which enjoy public funding, of having a low profile. It said that about 2 per cent of consumers recognised them.

Achievements ‘unimpressive’

The committee said that Energywatch and Postwatch had handled more than 300,000 complaints and achieved compensation for consumers but that their overall achievements were ‘unimpressive’. Complaint figures were still high and energy hard-sell tactics were still a problem. About 14.5 million items of post were misdelivered or lost each year.

However, Postwatch and Energywatch said some of the PAC’s findings and figures were outdated or wrong. Energywatch said it did not recognise itself in the description given in the PAC’s statement.

The PAC said the bodies’ overhead costs were ‘unjustifiably escalating’ but Energywatch said it was spending less than last year.

Energywatch said the National Audit Office report on which the PAC based its inquiry had raised issues which had now been addressed, and it had said the two watchdogs were doing good work.

Postwatch agreed it needed to raise its profile, but said complaints levels about Royal Mail had fallen and it took some credit for this. It also took credit for preventing the closure of about 500 post offices.

Energywatch’s helpline is 08459 060708, and Postwatch’s number is 08456 013265.

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