Energy firm Solarplicity is banned from taking on new customers and increasing direct debits for three months owing to its poor customer service and switching process.
The announcement, from energy regulator Ofgem, comes just a month after Which? research revealed Solarplicity as the worst gas and electricity firm in our annual energy companies satisfaction survey.
Solarplicity customers have faced poor service 'for a number of months' and the three-month ban is 'to prevent further harm to Solarplicity's customers', Ofgem said.
The small supplier now has three months to make improvements. If it fails to do so, Ofgem could extend the ban and ultimately strip Solarplicity of its license to supply gas and electricity.
Read on to find out what this means for Solarplicity's customers and what our survey revealed about its service. Or use Which? Switch to to see if you can switch to a cheaper supplier with better service.
Poor customer service and a poor switching process are the main failings cited by Ofgem.
It said it has sought improvements in Solarplicity's customer service, which has been poor for a number of months.
For example, between March and September 2018, there was an 'unacceptably high proportion of calls abandoned and unacceptably long call waiting times', Ofgem said. Call handling has improved, but the regulator has not seen improvements in other areas.
Which?'s survey of Solarplicity customers also found frustration and failings.
Solarplicity was the only supplier to receive one-star ratings in any aspect of its service. Its online customer service, phone customer service, complaints handling and efforts to help customers understand and reduce energy use were all rated one star.
In fact, three-quarters of its customers said that it's poor or very poor at dealing with complaints.
Plus, 58% of Solarplicity's customers said they had a problem with it in the past two years. Across all companies, a quarter of customers said they had a problem in this time.
Alex Neill, Which? managing director of home services, said:'Solarplicity finished rock bottom in our annual energy satisfaction survey, with scores of customers complaining about appalling service over the phone and online - so it's right that the regulator is stepping in.
'As millions of energy customers brace themselves for yet another set of price hikes, this should also serve as a warning to all firms letting their customers down with shoddy service, billing and payment problems, or poor complaints handling that they need to up their game.
'Anyone unhappy with their current provider should look to switch to a better deal - and potentially save around £300 a year.'
Separately, Elexon, which balances the electricity system, briefly listed Solarplicity as in default on its payments.
If you're a Solarplicity customer, you should start to see improvements in its service, in line with Ofgem's requirements.
Vulnerable customers' direct debit payments can't be increased while the ban is in place. You might be in this group if you're disabled, have a long-term sickness, are elderly or have very young children at home.
Solarplicity is not allowed to take on new customers, but existing ones are allowed to switch. Switching from Solarplicity's standard variable tariff to the cheapest deal on the market available now could save you £230 per year.
Before you switch, check whether your tariff has exit fees. Even so, it's worth seeing whether your savings could outweigh paying these. Some suppliers will also pay your exit fees when you switch to them.
Stoke-on-Trent council and Solarplicity switching scheme
Stoke-on-Trent city council ran a community energy switching scheme with Solarplicity. If you've signed up to switch as part of this, your switch will still go ahead.
Solarplicity must make the following improvements in order for the customer ban to be lifted:
Ofgem says it will monitor how Solarplicity tries to improve over the next few months.
*We conducted an online survey of 7,439 members of the GB general public in September 2019, for our annual energy companies satisfaction survey.
Energy prices are based on a dual-fuel tariff available in all regions in England, Scotland and Wales paying by monthly direct debit, with paperless bills.
Energy usage is based on Ofgem's annual average figures for a medium user (12,000kWh gas and 3,100kWh electricity). Data is from Energylinx. Prices given are averages across regions, are rounded to the nearest whole pound and correct on 20 February 2019.