The Commission for Regulation of Utilities has said that 2021 was a particularly challenging year for many customers due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the global increases in energy costs in the latter part of the year.

The CRU provides a free dispute resolution service to customers who have an unresolved complaint against an energy supplier, network operator or Irish Water.

Publishing its Customer Care Annual Report for 2021, the CRU said it received 6,608 contacts through its customer care service last year, an increase of 51% from 2020.

Customer contacts related to billing and account issues, customer service levels and metering problems.

The CRU said that some of these contacts can become complex complaints, which are defined as issues that require escalation to the CRU and a full investigation.

The CRU closed 186 complex complaints in energy last year, with 32% of these upheld in favour of the customer.

Detailing the complaints, CRU said one which was was upheld was in relation to misleading information given to a customer on sign-up to a contact.

The customer had a day-night meter and had queried the time frames applicable to "day" and "night" meter usage with the supplier's customer care service to ensure they would be using energy at the cheaper night-time rate.

The supplier customer care agent incorrectly advised the customer that night rate usage is recorded between 8pm and 8am when in fact the night rate is applied between 11pm and 8am. This led to unexpectedly higher bills for the customer.

The CRU upheld the complaint and awarded €120 for various customer service issues including not registering the customer's initial complaint, not taking the customer through the complaints process, incorrectly closing the complaint, not providing any update or investigation of the issue and not referring the customer to the CRU to escalate the complaint

In relation to energy providers, today's report shows that the share of customer contacts for each of the nine largest energy suppliers was broadly in line with their market share, with the exception of Electric Ireland and Bord Gáis Energy.

Contacts levels regarding Electric Ireland (19%) are notably lower than its respective market share (43%), while the level of contacts made regarding BGE (28%) is notably higher than its market share (21%).

The gap between contact levels and market share decreased favourably between 2020 to 2021 for both SSE Airtricity and Energia, the CRU noted.

In relation to Irish Water, the CCT received 374 customer contacts last year - up 56% from 2020. The CCT investigated and closed 18 complex complaints relating to Irish Water in 2021, 44% of which were upheld in favour of the customer.

Account problems and billing accounted for the majority of Irish Water complaints, mainly complaints from non-domestic customers who are receiving regular bills. Customer service issues accounted for 22% of complaints.

CRU Chairperson Aoife MacEvilly said the Commission offers a free and independent complaint resolution service to energy customers and customers of Irish Water Customers.

"There was a 51% increase in contacts to the CRU last year, which is likely to have been driven by increased awareness of our customer protection role as customers deal with the challenge of increased energy costs and see the impact on their bills," Aoife MacEvilly said.

She said that billing and account issues continue to be the main driver of complaints.

"We would call on any customer with a complaint to raise this with their energy supplier or Irish Water, and if they are not satisfied with the outcome, contact the CRU customer care team," she added.