Energy suppliers never want to see any of their customers having their energy supply cut-off, particularly those customers who may find themselves in vulnerable circumstances. It was in this spirit in 2004 that the Energy Retail Association (now part of Energy UK) established the Safety Net for vulnerable consumers. At its core the Safety Net is a pledge by the larger six suppliers to never knowingly disconnect a vulnerable customer.
Since the Safety Net was founded, the nature of debt and disconnection in the UK energy retail market has changed beyond recognition. In 2003 there were around 16,000 disconnections of domestic customers for debt in the UK. In 2014 - the most recent year for which published data exists - there were just over 200.
Participating Energy suppliers want to know they are performing as well as they can against the aims of the Energy UK Safety Net. This is why the signatories undergo an audit each year to measure how they deliver against 13 key objectives including having specialist teams to support vulnerable customers, monitoring repayment options so they take into account a customer’s ability to pay and never knowingly disconnecting a vulnerable customer.
The results of the 2015 Safety Net Audit, carried out by PwC, can be viewed here. This is the first time the results of the Safety Net audit have been published. The commitment to publish the results reflects the increasing priority Energy UK’s members place upon protecting their most vulnerable customers.
The results of the Safety Net audit for 2015 show two suppliers attained the highest ‘Gold’ award while four others achieved Silver which recognises the significant efforts they have made to comply with the Safety Net commitments. There were no instances of non-compliance noted.
As the nature of debt and disconnection has changed, so has the energy retail market itself. In 2012 smaller and medium suppliers accounted for around one per cent of all customer accounts. This figure has risen to around 15 per cent today. This presents the next challenge for the Energy UK Safety Net: to help new, small and emerging suppliers to benefit from the experience of larger and more established ones to deliver similar levels of protection and support for vulnerable customers across the market.
So while we celebrate good practice with the results of the Energy UK Safety Net Audit, we have to remain vigilant against complacency. The work of raising standards and protecting vulnerable consumers in the energy market is never done.