In this first grey week of December as the winter really gets its teeth into the UK, the news columns are once again full of angry paragraphs lamenting the appalling behaviour of the energy companies otherwise known as the Big Six.
npower, the anti-Christ of customer satisfaction, has hiked up its prices higher than any of the other Big Six this year despite reporting a stonking profit rise of £413 million and not feeling the urge to pay any of it back in Corporation Tax for the past 3 years.
Laughing behind their hands at the customers who kick feebly against their racketeering, npower has chosen to add insult to fuel poverty death and injury by announcing the axing of 2000 call centre and what they loosely call ‘customer service’ jobs from some of the neediest parts of Britain just before Christmas, moving them to India, the graveyard of consumer confidence.
The other 5 horsemen of the energy apocalypse are no less guilty. Gas and electricity prices are rising 8 times higher than average earnings and seem to bear no relation to the price of anything else in real life.
To most people electricky is a weird and magical thing, it’s difficult to quantify and its providers want to keep it that way. We have no idea what we’re actually paying for and they’re in no hurry to tell us. The powers that be stand pathetically by, their mouths moving but nothing seems to be happening.
To me, as a former madam and keeper of a very orderly ‘disorderly house’, the Big Six seem to have based their business model on another previously legal method of racketeering, the notoriously infamous Soho clip-joints.
My dad, when my mum wasn’t talking to him, used to live in a small flat in Brewer Street in Soho. I spent the 1980’s watching comely young people badgering unwitting members of the public in doorways. They promised them the earth and other unquantifiable things for unknown sums of money if they stepped into the low light behind the spangley curtain. These were the ‘Clippers’ the clip-joint version of the energy companies door- to-door hustlers.
Once seduced and conned by attractive smiles and promises of exciting services, the unwitting victim would be left frightened, robbed and confused, trying to come to terms with what had happened to them at the hands of these servants of murderous cartels. The distressed punters would be tainted by bitter memories of the abuse they suffered at the hands of these people that would haunt them for years. Surely, in 2013 there has to be a less stressful way to find a cheaper gas supplier?
The organised crime cartels that ran the clip-joints and fleshpots of London were experts in subversive price fixing long before privatised energy was a twinkle in Mrs Thatcher’s eye.
Amongst the gangland mob bosses, it was decided that the price of a fizzy orange in any Soho den of iniquity would be fixed at £250, a charge that was to remain undisclosed and something of a nasty surprise to the customer. Other obscure but exorbitant charges could then be added for additional services such as sitting down or conversation and presented in an outrageous bill that bore no relation to the goods or services provided.
If you were foolish enough to question your bill or could not afford to pay, you would be swiftly dealt with by big men with thick necks and no hair. Threats and extortion were rife, some people died, but these numbers, although tragic, were insignificant compared to the official figure of 24,000 needless deaths last year of those who could not afford to pay to heat their homes and were given no quarter or compassion by the modern energy cartels.
And shockingly, just like the clip-joints of yesteryear, today’s purse-plundering energy scam is completely legal.
The government stands back, flaps its gums and kicks its heals whilst the energy giants trample citizens underfoot.
Ineffectual demands past and present about changes to the way both clip-joints and the Big Six operate have been met with piss-taking responses from both hustler hierarchies.
The energy companies have announced a mirage of reductions to hypothetical, over-inflated bills whilst the owner of an equally unethical establishment in London’s most famous red light district explained his methods of avoiding cleaning up their act to The Guardian:
‘…Then the council insisted we put a price list on each table, so we did. It’s printed in gothic script in red ink on red card. We keep the lights low so you can’t actually read it. If the cops come we turn the lights up and there it is.
‘The drinks have exotic names but none have alcohol in – we don’t have a licence for that. When the bill arrives it includes the hostess fee, the waitress fee and a service charge. Depending on how much we reckon we can take the punter for….’
2007 saw a closing of the loophole that allowed clip-joints to operate legally after hundreds of years of extortion but today it feels like we are a very long way from that happening with the energy companies.
I’ve spent two decades in the UK sex industry running brothels and whilst, like the Big six, clip-joints gave the business a bad name, they were not typical of the entire sector. My experience of most of those who earn their money as sex workers is that they are decent, ethical people who realise the importance of customer relations, retention and satisfaction if they want to stay in profit.
The general public are not stupid; we eventually got wise to the workings of the clip-joints as I’m sure we will all get wise to the workings of the energy cartels.
The Big Six need to realise that their customers, unlike those clip-joint customers or my brothel customers, do not want to be screwed. They are paying for heat and light, not to get shafted and left in the dark.
Small independent and a few not-for-profit energy companies are slowly working their way into the market and I think as consumers we have a duty to support them and help them give the Big Six a damn good seeing to.
Madam Becky Adams is a former madam, award-winning author and independent sex industry consultant for the BBC, Big Lotto Fund and Swansea University.
A Keynote speaker on the
‘Art of Seductive Customer Servicing’ – Profitable liaisons with the customer sub-conscious.
Her next seminar and ‘Seductive Customer Servicing’ training day is in Corby on 17 December 2013.
Tickets from £15.00 including lunch are available from her website: