Finnish consumer authority receives more consumer complaints from electricity company Fi-Nergy Voima than any other energy company Jukka Kaakkola, Lead Expert of the Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority (KKV).
Last year, the authority received nearly 1,000 selected energy companies, mainly for billing problems.
"Most complaints concern invoicing. Consumers have not received compensation and [consumers'] advance payments for electricity have accumulated," Kaakkola explained with reference to the practice of billing customers for anticipated electricity consumption.
When such methods are done correctly, energy companies end up paying customers back for unused energy, but many consumers have complained that Fi-Nergy did not.
According to Kaakkola, complaints about the company have caused the authority more work than any other similar company. There are more than 70 energy companies operating in Finland.
"It probably stands in its own class when you look at complaints. The company’s operating methods are not the best," he said.
The ordeal of one customer
Complaints related to Fi-Nergia began to accumulate in 2019, and the authorities received a total of about 500.
One of the complainants that year was Kati Arell who lives in the southwest of Kaarina. He had signed a fixed-term, two-year contract with Fi-Nergy thanks to an attractive offer found online.
"I made the decision based on price alone, I had no doubt about anything. The alarm bells did not ring," he explained.
Although most power companies stopped billing customers based on future estimates about a decade ago, Fi-Nergy continues the practice. The bills based on the company’s consumption estimates were significantly higher than the electricity consumers actually use. The system is assumed to mean closing the gap and paying household compensation later.
"The terms of the agreement stated that the company would regularly reimburse overpaid advances," Arell said.
It took months before he noticed the problem, but when he found it, he noticed that he had never been paid any overprices, and called the company.
"Unfortunately, they said, ‘Oh! We forgot to smooth the bill," Arell explained that the first exchange with the company was only the first of many monthly calls.
"Reimbursements were not automatic, you have to ask for them several times," he said.
Last summer, the company said Arell did not pay any compensation, forcing him to end the arrangement in the middle of a two-year contract.
He said Fi-Nergy agreed and the deal ended in September.
The story continues after the picture.
However, Arell still had several months to pay compensation, and he said he had tried to recover them for four months.
"I’ve called, emailed and contacted by a consumer advisor, but I still have not received anything," he said.
Arell noted that the sums aren’t huge, but his bitterness is, saying that the experience of Fi-Nergy has left him a bitter aftertaste.
"I had to use quite a lot of my time into this mess researching," he said.
Problems from the beginning
Fi-Nergy was founded in 2017 and currently has about 20,000 customers, but the consumer authority has been aware of the problems since the company opened.
Following the complaint, KKV sued Fi-Nergia in the Market Court in April 2020 and threatened the company with fines of hundreds of thousands of euros if it did not change its billing practices.
As the lawsuit has not yet been seen in court, Fi-Nergy has been able to continue in the same way.
By answering the company’s owner Yle’s questionnaire, Håkan Gustafsson, acknowledged the company ‘s operational problems due to the growth of its customer base.
"Internal improvements have been made. We have also asked for help from external experts, but it is clear that not all changes are immediately visible everywhere," Gustafsson said and added that he was waiting for the decision of the Market Court.
"What we have done wrong has been found out and what we have not done wrong has also been found out," he said.
KKV’s Kaakkola said that the authority had on several occasions failed to persuade Fi-Nergia to improve its habits. In December, KKV asked the company to repay all of its customers’ undisputed receivables by the end of 2020.
"Fi-Nergy has not yet responded to our request on how it will continue to pay compensation," Kaakola said.
The owner is responsible
At the same time, Gustafsson expressed astonishment at the complaints that his company had not sent final invoices to its customers or paid advance payments.
"We strive to do our best to ensure that your billing runs smoothly. When the customer’s contract expires, the final invoice will follow in due course. This is how we run a company," Gustafsson said.
However, the company’s former client, Arell, said he has still not received treatment, more than four months after the contract was terminated.
"I haven’t received a final bill, let alone money," he said.
According to the consumer authority Kaakkola, customers should receive the final invoices within six weeks of terminating the contracts.
"And after that the money must be returned to the customer within two weeks," Kaakkola explained.
He said he was opposed to the way Fi-Nergia was allowed to continue its operations, adding that he was surprised by the actions of the authorities in the matter.
"I think harder methods could be shown to such actors. The hands of the authorities are fully tied," Southeast said.
An owner who knows the threat of fines
Gustafsson has been fined several times by the authorities over the years when he was the owner, shareholder, director or employee of several electricity companies at the time.
One feature that all these companies share is that at some point they eventually teamed up with the authorities.
Gustafsson has been associated with companies that include 220 Energia, Market Energia, Werel and Suomen Energiayhtiö, all of which have been sued, threatened with fines or otherwise investigated by the authorities.
According to KKV, these companies had problems with, among other things, invoicing, payment of contracts and unilateral changes to customers’ contract terms, as well as telemarketing sales.
About a year ago, KKV issued a warning to consumers about Fi-Nergy’s operations due to deficiencies in contracts, billing and customer service practices. The warning was sent to about 500 consumer complaints made during 2019.
Last year, the number of complaints against the company almost doubled to a total of 930, but KKV has not issued a new similar warning.
Kaakkola said the company has not gained any new customers.
"As far as we know, the company has not acquired any new subscribers. These have been two – year fixed – term contracts [are expected] ends in days, Kaakkola said.
However, Gustafsson argued that efforts to recruit the company’s subscribers would continue.
"This year we are going to get 15,000 new subscribers," he said.
Advocacy Group: Company methods are harmful
Local Power is an interest group that serves small, independent energy companies. Chief Legal Officer of the Organization, Jari Nykänen, said traditional power companies follow industry regulations well.
On the other hand, he said Gustafsson’s methods were detrimental to the industry as a whole.
"In the field, we have heard of hundreds of cases where customers have been disappointed. [That causes] problems throughout the industry and makes people wonder if everyone is doing this," Nykänen said.
For years, the local power has been proposing to introduce a licensing procedure for electricity sellers in Finland. Currently, anyone can set up an electricity company.
"If the electricity producer were licensed, the authorities would be better able to intervene," Nykänen said.
He urged consumers who feel cheated to tell the consumer protection authority what happened.
"If customers do not complain, we will not be able to develop the industry in the future," he noted.
Small uphill battles
At the same time, although former Fi-Nergy customer Arell contacted the authority, his problems with the company were delayed.
Arell has the opportunity to take the matter to court for compensation, but he does not want to do so.
"No, not because of these amounts. This is what business is all about. No one goes to court for a few tens or hundreds of euros. People are left disappointed and empty, and their money stays in Gustafsson’s pocket," Arell complained.
Gustafsson, for his part, said he could not explain why his company was the subject of so many consumer complaints, adding that he had done his best in a competitive market.
"I don’t know what led to the complaints. It’s hard to say, maybe the complaint threshold has dropped over the years," he said.
Source: The Nordic Page