Energy UK today launches its Vulnerability Commitment – under which suppliers serving nearly three quarters of the domestic market have pledged to improve the support they provide to vulnerable households.
So far 15 energy suppliers, including most of the larger providers as well as growing companies, have voluntarily signed up to a series of commitments that go above and beyond existing licence obligations. All signatories have been working to ensure they can meet the extensive commitments from the start of 2021. Each company’s performance against the Commitment will be independently assessed during the first year.
The full range of commitments have been published today and include:
- Appointing a Board level ‘champion’ to take responsibility for meeting the Commitment and improving support to vulnerable households.
- Training front line call centre staff to help better identify vulnerable callers and assist them.
- Providing a freephone number for customers in financial hardship where appropriate
- Seeking feedback from customers on whether billing communications are understandable and implementing improvements where necessary.
- Regular customer research to ensure approach to supporting vulnerable households is informed and up to date.
- Supporting the development of a best practice guide on using smart technology to identify self-disconnection.
The suppliers that are signed up to the Vulnerability Commitment will also be recognized in the Citizens Advice energy supplier rating, from December 2020 onwards.
The Commitment builds on the work, research and recommendations of the independently-chaired Commission for Customers in Vulnerable Circumstances which Energy UK established in 2018. Last year the Commission made a number of recommendations of how to continually improve service for all customers, particularly those in the most need, including the creation of an independent Code of Conduct for suppliers.
The Commission’s report found that despite examples of good practice, the quality and availability of support varied across the industry and that action was needed to better identify customers in vulnerable circumstances and improve the help given to them. The report also highlighted how vulnerability can incorporate not just financial difficulties but mental and physical illness, disability and events like bereavement or loss of employment.
The Commitment goes above and beyond any existing regulations and the COVID-19 principles agreed with government recently. The energy sector is already tightly regulated and the announcement today is about complementing the various regulations and licence conditions to develop a new collaborative, proactive and transparent approach to improve the quality of support provided and customer awareness that it exists.
Energy UK has worked with a range of organisations to develop the Commitment and used in-depth interviews with a range of customers in vulnerable circumstances to ensure the Commitment’s purpose and aims are clear and relevant to their needs.
Commenting on the launch of the Vulnerability Commitment Energy UK’s Deputy Chief Executive, Audrey Gallacher, said:
“The energy sector provides an essential service and moved quickly to help customers affected by the pandemic by increasing the amount of support it gives. The Vulnerability Commitment is a result of our work with consumers and their representatives to better understand what help is needed. And the suppliers who have already signed up are sending an important message, which is that we want to go above and beyond existing measures and to continuously improve the quality of support to vulnerable households.”
Minister of State for Energy, Kwasi Kwarteng, said:
“Everyone deserves good customer service, no matter what their circumstances. I’m encouraged to see energy companies pledging to make sure vulnerable consumers receive the support and service they deserve.
“This build on our Warm Home Discount that gives 2 million vulnerable households £140 off their winter fuel bills, in addition to our agreement with suppliers which ensures they support those in financial distress caused by Covid-19.”
Scotland’s Energy Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, said:
“This new Vulnerability Commitment and the actions committed to by those businesses that are signatories will help support individual consumers in vulnerable circumstances and ensure a fairer market for Scottish energy consumers and I welcome the Commitment as a positive contribution to meeting the ambitions set out in our Scottish Energy Consumer Action Plan. I look forward to seeing more suppliers join the initial 15 who have already signed to help expand these protections to even more consumers across Scotland.”
Alistair Cromwell, Acting Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:
“It’s great to see energy suppliers committing to improving services for people in vulnerable circumstances, especially at a time when many households will need support more than ever.
“Every day we help people who can’t get through to their supplier, are having problems with their bills or problems topping up their pre-payment meter. This commitment will play a significant role in making these problems a thing of the past. It’s right that we recognise this in our star rating and hope more suppliers will be encouraged to sign-up.”
Lord Whitty, Chair of the Commission for Customers in Vulnerable Circumstances, said:
“It is heartening to see that Energy UK and a significant proportion of energy suppliers have made this commitment and taken up many of our Commissions recommendations.
“In our Report we found serious issues for vulnerable consumers in dealing with their suppliers; and a wide variation both between and within companies as to how effectively they recognised these difficulties and how they communicated with vulnerable customers.
“These commitments – made by companies covering most of the domestic market – should level up company performance and raise the standard everywhere to the benefit of vulnerable households in these difficult times, leading to more manageable bills in some cases and more effective customer service across the board.”
Joanna Elson CBE, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust and a Commissioner on Energy UK’s Vulnerability Commission, said:
“Today’s commitment from energy suppliers to improve the support they provide to vulnerable households is welcome and comes at a crucial time with many people dealing with the financial impact of Covid-19. Energy UK has played an important role in driving forward the vulnerability agenda across the energy sector. I hope this commitment encourages more suppliers to further improve support for customers in vulnerable circumstances.”
- 15 suppliers have signed up to be founding signatories of Energy UK’s Vulnerability Commitment. They are: British Gas, Bulb, E, Ecotricity, EDF Energy, Green Network Energy, Green, Octopus, Outfox the Market, Ovo, Scottish Power, So Energy, Together Energy, Utility Warehouse and Yorkshire Energy.
- This represents 1 in 4 energy suppliers (15 out of 53 domestic energy suppliers) or 70% of the domestic customer market share.
- Here is a link to the full set of principles and commitments which form the Vulnerability Commitment
- Any supplier can sign up and we have worked across members and non-members of Energy UK
- Suppliers that are signed up to the Vulnerability Commitment will be eligible to receive three stars under the “Customer Guarantees” section of the Citizens Advice energy supplier rating, from the December 2020 release onwards.
- Research with 25 customers in a variety of vulnerable circumstances took the form of in-depth interviews and was conducted by Qa Research
- The Vulnerability Commitment does not apply to the non-domestic energy market
- In July, Energy UK wrote to all energy suppliers to invite them to sign up to the Vulnerability Commitment
- Signatories have agreed to be compliant by the commitments with effect from 1 January 2021. This has allowed them time to undertake the necessary changes to processes, protocols and to update staff training and awareness accordingly.
- Energy UK set up its own Vulnerability Group in 2017, publishing a guide with the Money Advice Trust on helping customers with mental health problems and also initiated existing voluntary supplier commitments, such as the Safety Net and Prepayment Principles to support customers in need. The Safety Net and Prepayment Principles will be superseded by the Vulnerability Commitment from 2021.
- In 2018, Energy UK launched the Commission for Customers in Vulnerable Circumstances, to explore how customers in vulnerable circumstances could be provided better energy services in the future. Independently chaired by Lord Whitty, with five expert Commissioners from a wide range of backgrounds, their report arrived at seven key themes, leading to a number of recommendations – for suppliers, energy networks, price comparison websites, Energy UK, Ofgem, the UK Government, and Citizens Advice – all of which the Commission felt would lead to better services for customers in vulnerable circumstances. Link to Commissions final report and recommendations
- A key recommendation was creating an independently monitored Code of Conduct for suppliers to drive up standards of support for customers in vulnerable circumstances. This has led to the development of the Vulnerability Commitment launched today.