TOWN Hall bosses are confident a council-backed energy company which has been subject to a high number of complaints has ‘turned a corner’.

The Labour-run council is putting £18 million into Together Energy, as well as providing a £4 million loan to the Scottish firm.

It finished bottom of the Which? energy provider table and has received many complaints from users.

Read more >> Company council invested £18m in finishes last in energy provider table

The company said it operates an £85 million turnover, with over 140 employees serving more than 150,000 customer accounts.

But Geoff Johnson, from West Yorkshire, has expressed serious concerns over the council’s deal after experiencing difficulties with the company.

The 72-year-old said: “Following Together Energy’s failure to respond to my four complaints about their taking of unauthorised and unjustified monies from my bank account for four months after I closed my account, even though my account was in considerable credit when I closed it, I complained to the Energy Ombudsman last September.

“I eventually obtained a final bill made up to the date that I closed my account, the best part of a year previously, and a partial refund.

Warrington Guardian:

The council is putting £18 million into Together Energy, as well as providing a £4 million loan to the company

“But not the refund they owed me because they calculated the refund against their current unit rates, rather than the rates they contracted with me.

“The whole debacle has caused me considerable anxiety – I am a pensioner and cannot afford the behaviours that Together Energy have demonstrated.”

Mr Johnson has confirmed his complaint has recently been resolved – he said he will receive £1,100 from the company.

He said £30 of this is for a goodwill payment, with the remaining sum being a refund after he was overcharged.

He added: “As for Warrington, I have every sympathy for your council taxpayers.

“You have bought a pig in a poke and I cannot fathom why the council was incentivised to take such a risk.”

Together Energy did not wish to comment as the complaint has been resolved.

During the leader’s forum in Burtonwood on Tuesday, council leader Cllr Russ Bowden told residents the authority was attracted to the firm’s potential for growth and social values.

Warrington Guardian:

Council leader Cllr Russ Bowden

However, he admitted any one of the authority’s investments could potentially ‘go sour’.

He said: “There are some really strong reasons why we invested in Together Energy – it is not just around income, there’s a lot of policy-driven investments.

“The council has bought two solar farms – one in York and one in Hull – I think over the lifetime they will bring in excess of £130 million of income for the council.

“But, fundamentally, what we want to do is have an energy company that we can use to supply that energy ourselves.”

Cllr Bowden highlighted his vision to make green energy accessible to residents and businesses in the town to ensure those in the borough can ‘benefit’ from the investments.

He also said ‘we are making sure’ Together Energy is putting in the effort to deal with customer satisfaction and that he believes it has ‘turned a corner’.

Council chief executive Steven Broomhead, who is on Together Energy’s board of directors, says tackling fuel poverty and the social value behind the firm was key to the ‘long-term’ investment.

Warrington Guardian:

Steven Broomhead

“It has not caused my any sleepless nights but this investment was different than any other investment the council has made and we carried out enormous due diligence on Together Energy before we made the investment,” he said.

“It did acquire another energy company before we made our investment and that had not treated its customers very well.

“That is one of the reasons why, on the customer scores people keep quoting, Together Energy doesn’t do very well, but that is improving.

“There is a risk but there is a risk with any investment. We are not in it for two or three years, we are in it for the long haul.

“This one is about more than just the money. It will make money over a period of time but it is also about green energy, social value and fuel poverty.

“I do think it is performing much better than credit has been given to it at the moment and we are happy with the deal.

“This deal is the one that has personally given me most time to think about because there is a lot of heavy lifting required in the first few months of the operation.

Warrington Guardian:

Town Hall

“We knew that when we were doing it and I personally wanted to stress test everything with this one because I could see £18 million, plus a £4 million loan, was a big number.

“I don’t want to end my career with that number around my neck.

“But there is no departure from what we are doing – land and property is still probably our prime interest, we still continue to look at those when they come on the market.”

Mr Broomhead also called on the Government to ‘fund councils properly’.

He added: “Why are we doing this? It’s not because we enjoy investing in an energy company and buying property, we are doing it because we are having to maintain our frontline services.”

Headquartered in Clydebank, Together Energy offers low priced dual energy tariffs for up to a three-year fixed term.

And it has launched a recruitment campaign ahead of the opening of a new office in Warrington.

The energy provider is looking to recruit at least 20 new members of staff.

It operates a unique recruitment policy favouring young people who have been disadvantaged in some way, or did not have a ‘positive experience’ of school.

Chief executive Paul Richards said: “Together Energy was founded in an employment deprived area with a significance reliance on low-wage, zero hour contracts and state benefits and our ethos from day one has been to create local community jobs of worth that recognise and support young disadvantaged people.

“We want to replicate that in Warrington and create opportunities for personal growth.

“Investment in training and learning is also a big part of our business and no matter the stage of a person’s career we provide learning support whether that be participation in a modern apprenticeship or a university access course, but it’s not just about academic learning as we recognise that’s not for everyone.

“We offer support and advice on a variety of lifestyle issues.

“We’re looking at opening a new office in the town in the spring and are hoping to have staff in place within six weeks.

“No experience is required as training is provided but a desire to make a change and learn is.”

All of Together Energy employees receive the minimum living wage for over 25 year olds, regardless of their age.

Cllr Bowden added: “Offering local young people who might not find employment easily in the job market was one of the reasons for our investment.

“We are delighted that the new Warrington office will provide this opportunity.”

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