Electric car charging on drive of country house

Majority of EV owners are unhappy with public charging infrastructure, survey finds

Image credit: Friptuleac Roman/Dreamstime

Nearly three out of four electric vehicle (EV) owners in the UK have difficulties finding a public charger that works, according to a Which? survey.

A poll of almost 1,500 members of consumer group Which? who drive a pure electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle showed most of them (about 74 per cent) were unhappy with the current public charging infrastructure. 

In addition, two out of five (40 per cent) of those polled reported finding a non-working charger, while 61 per cent have suffered difficulties making payments. Almost half (45 per cent) of those questioned estimated that the nearest public on-street chargepoint to their home is more than a 20-minute walk away.

Moreover, the vast majority of EV owners (84 per cent) who use public chargers want the option of paying by a contactless bank card, the survey suggests. At the moment, most chargepoints require drivers to pay through an app.

“Our research shows that the public EV charging infrastructure is falling short as many drivers struggle to find reliable charging points in good working order, have to navigate confusing payment systems, or are unable to rely on adequate charging points close to their homes or to get them through a long journey," said Sue Davies, head of consumer protection policy at Which?

“The government must move quickly to implement its plans to improve the consumer experience of using the public charging networks by extending reliability standards across the full network and ensuring proposals for payment roaming make paying to charge much simpler. Charging must be easy, reliable and seamless to support people making the move to an electric car.”

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “We have one of the largest charging networks in Europe, and are working to ensure drivers can access chargepoints across the country which are reliable, consistent and seamless to use.

“Since 2020 we have committed £1.6 billion to improving the charging network and are on track to have 300,000 public chargepoints by 2030.”

The latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders show a decrease in demand for new pure electric cars. According to the organisation, at the end of August, the year-to-date increase had fallen to 49 per cent. This is a sharp contrast with the numbers of earlier this year when the number of registrations between January and March was 102 per cent more than during the same period in 2021. 

The rising energy costs and lack of affordable options have been identified as the main reason for this decrease in demand, according to a report by consumer website Electrifying.com. 

Electrifying.com founder and chief executive Ginny Buckley said electric cars are “firmly embedded in the UK’s car-buying habits” but warned that drivers are “paying more” to make the switch from petrol and diesel.

Earlier this week, 23 EV chargepoint operators such as Ionity, Instavolt and Osprey signed a letter urging the Chancellor to cut VAT on public charging, describing it as a “simple, relatively low-cost intervention” in light of high electricity prices, which “threaten consumers’ willingness” to switch to EVs.

The companies claimed that drivers who cannot charge at home because they do not have off-street parking pay four times more tax for electricity when using public chargepoints. Currently,  VAT on domestic electricity is 5 per cent whereas motorists using on-street chargers pay 20 per cent.

“We write to highlight the severe threat that high and volatile electricity costs are having on the government’s stated ambitions to decarbonise transport with the switch to electric vehicles and your ambitious plans for the development of a comprehensive public charge point network,” the letter said. 

“One quick solution, that is totally within your control, is to heed the Fair Charge campaign’s call for an immediate cut in VAT on the electricity delivered by our networks. Such a cut would immediately feed through to a reduction in prices. Further, it would show the strength of the Government’s continued commitment to transport decarbonisation.”

Quentin Willson, founder of FairCharge, said the Treasury “needs to act now on EV charging costs”.

RAC spokesman Simon Williams added: “Chargepoint operators have had no choice in recent months but to increase their charges to reflect the enormous increases in the wholesale cost of electricity, and this is something we could well see worsen in the next few months.

“Cutting the 20 per cent VAT rate on public chargers to match the 5 per cent charged on domestic electricity would cost the Government little in the grand scheme of things and is absolutely the right thing to do.

“What’s more, it would be those drivers who depend on the public charging network – including those who can’t charge at home – who would benefit the most, helping to end the current inequity between those with driveways and those without.”

Last week, new Prime Minister Liz Truss unveiled her plan to address the rising cost of energy. Under the government’s proposed plans, typical domestic energy bills will be frozen at £2,500 and businesses will be spared crippling increases until the next general election, scheduled to be held in two years’ time. The measure will replace the existing energy price cap set by regulator Ofgem, which was set to increase to £3,549 come October.

As a result of the government’s new “energy price guarantee”, the RAC said it will cost an average of £22.22 to fully charge an electric car with a 64kWh battery – such as a Kia e-Niro – from October. That is nearly a £4 increase over the current price, but £11.50 less than it would have done under the cap which was due to come into force at the start of next month.

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