What to include in a case file – advice for energy suppliers

Guidance last updated July 2019

Introduction

Detailed case files allow us to make high quality decisions that are fair and well-informed. They allow us to be confident in our understanding of the full circumstances surrounding a complaint, which results in improved acceptance rates and the delivery of a more effective service overall.

Why are detailed case files so important?

If a company does not support its view of a specific complaint with the necessary evidence, it is likely that we will uphold the customer’s complaint and make an appropriate award based on the evidence provided by the complainant.

It is a company’s responsibility to accurately capture and record evidence relating to a customer complaint as part of a case file, which we can then share with the customer by way of an explanation as part of our investigation into a specific complaint.

If a company is in possession of relevant information but fails to include it in the respective case file, the information cannot later be relied upon by the company when making further representations.

In short, if a company is in possession of any information or evidence that’s pertinent to a particular customer complaint, it is vital that all of the information is captured within the relevant case file in order for it to be considered as part of any future investigation carried out by Ombudsman Services.

What information should be included in a case file?

Every case file should be tailored to the subject matter of the specific dispute raised by a customer. It should not simply capture all and any information you have available relating to the customer in question and their account.

All case files should aim to convince Ombudsman Services that the company’s point of view is reasonable and that it has acted in accordance with the most up to date company processes and procedures.

In every case, we would expect to see:

  • A summary of events (within our Case Management System – CMS) that includes an explanation of any unfamiliar terms raised during the dispute and the company’s current position on the dispute (any resolution offers, for example)
  • Customer service records (relevant to the time period the dispute spans)
  • A copy of any correspondence issued by the provider during the course of the complaint
  • A copy of correspondence received from the complainant during the course of the complaint.

For disputes involving billing, we would expect to see every case detail, plus:

  • Copies of bills (relevant to the disputed period)
  • A full list of meter readings associated with the customer’s meter (to allow consumption analysis if required)
  • If possible, a copy of data flows supporting the meter readings received/attempted to be collected
  • Copy of any correspondence sent in relation to the billing of the account (meter reading reminder letters or direct debit assessment letters, for example)
  • If the dispute involves a catch-up bill, a breakdown of how back billing was applied, or the reason why not deemed applicable
  • A customer’s payment history
  • Confirmation of whether a customer’s credit file has been affected, in cases where there has been an outstanding unpaid balance.

For complaints that do not specifically include billing, we would expect to see every case detail, plus:

  • A copy of the sales call/documentation/welcome pack, if possible (for mis-selling complaints)
  • A copy of call recordings or confirmation that a call recording is not available (for cases where a customer disputes the information/advice given during a specific customer service call)
  • Copies of any tenancy agreements/land registry documents held (for complaints involving disputed liability)
  • Details of any meter accuracy checks (for complaints about disputed consumption levels).

Ultimately, if a case file is thorough and clearly written, it reduces the need to double check or clarify specific details, thus saving valuable time and resources at both your end of business and ours.

What supporting documentation should be included in a case file?

We expect companies to evidence their opinion or perspective of a complaint with any appropriate supporting documentation.

We also expect complainants to provide the same level and standard of supporting documentation as part of their disclosure to us.

As a minimum standard, we also expect a company to provide a copy of its account notes along with the case file. The notes provided should start from the time the customer states the issue began until the present date.

It is not acceptable for a company to simply select the notes they think may be of relevance, as experience tells us this is rarely the case.

Further Information

When conducting previous investigations, our teams have encountered particular instances whereby a specific company, in their efforts to counter a customer’s complaint, have informed us that they ‘would have followed their usual business process’.

For example, we occasionally receive complaints from customers which state that they did not receive prior notice of a planned increase to prices.

In an effort to counter the complaint, we have received responses from some companies stating that ‘we would have sent a standard letter’. They did not, however, provide us with a copy of the standard letter sent to the complainant as part of their supporting documentation.

In such instances, we need to see evidence that the company has followed the correct process. We cannot simply take the company’s word for it.

In the absence of the addressed letter itself, we would expect to see evidence in the account notes that a letter was posted, as well as a copy of the standard letter template that was sent out to all customers.

We appreciate that providing detailed case files can be time consuming. However, we firmly believe that investing the time and effort at the beginning of the complaints process will pay dividends in the longer term. Not only does it ensure that you provide the fullest and most accurate version of events from the perspective of your company, but it also means we are able to provide both you and the complainant with a high-quality service. That means we are able to complete a thorough investigation into the complaint that also brings closure to the matter for both parties involved.

A lack of information, evidence and supporting documentation not only prevents us from delivering the best service possible – it also prolongs the dispute in many cases. This costs companies time as well as adding more of a financial burden.

Timescales to note when submitting a case file to Ombudsman Services

To make sure we are able to carry out a timely and accurate complaint investigation, it’s really important that all of the evidence you want us to consider is submitted as part of your case file within 14 days.

Any evidence submitted to us after the 14-day period may be disregarded, meaning it won’t be considered as part of our decision.

Once we’ve received your case file, we’ll share it with the complainant and give them the opportunity to comment on the evidence you’ve provided. We’ll also share any evidence submitted by the complainant with you and give you the same opportunity to comment.

The importance of a case file in delivering a positive customer experience

When it comes to relationships with customers, the complaints process can understandably cause tension between a supplier and its consumers. Providing an honest, accurate and detailed case file as part of a complaint investigation can help significantly in clarifying the issues raised and in bringing faster closure to a particular dispute. It also helps to restore the customer’s trust in their supplier.

The same cannot be said about a poor case file, however. If a customer is presented with a case file that is incomplete, or does not contain all of the relevant facts, details and supporting documentation relevant to the complaint, this can ultimately worsen the relationship between supplier and customer to the point that it becomes irreparable.