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Smart way to support vulnerable customers

A new guide published today by Energy UK highlights how suppliers are using smart prepayment meters (PPMs) to identify when vulnerable customers may need extra support.   

As part of the industry’s ongoing Vulnerability Commitment, Energy UK has been working with suppliers to produce practical examples of how they can identify and help customers who are, or may be at risk of, self-disconnecting or self-rationing.

These terms describe what happens when prepayment customers either decide not to top up their meter and so lose supply – or limit their usage because of financial concerns.    

Identifying when customers are doing this is difficult with traditional pre-payment meters but the smart versions offer the chance to alert suppliers immediately.

For example, suppliers can programme smart PPMs to send alerts to a customer when their credit balance drops below a level deemed safe by the supplier. Suppliers can also ensure they are notified of the drop and make contact with the customer to check whether they require support, such as emergency credit or targeted financial support.

Depending on how often the customer disconnects, suppliers can also increase contact to make certain the customer is aware of the support available, which could include schemes such as the Warm Home Discount and Energy Company Obligation (which offers financial support for energy efficiency measures) and debt management support from third sector organisations.

The guide also includes examples of how suppliers can use smart meter data to identify customers who may be at risk before they reach the point of self-disconnection. Suppliers can access customer consumption data and compare this with the customer’s usual seasonal usage to see if there is any cause for concern.

Suppliers can also ensure that their customer service agents are trained to be able to meet the needs of customers on PPMs, who may have complex additional needs and be more likely to face financial hardship.

Steve Crabb, Independent Chair of the Vulnerability Commitment, said:

“Vulnerable customers should not suffer as a result of the current turbulence in the energy market. That’s why the energy industry is taking extra steps to ensure that customers at risk are identified and receive additional support.

“Smart meters provide valuable information on customer consumption patterns, allowing suppliers to provide instant support to their customers through top-up reminders, emergency credit or signposting to the appropriate support.”

Daniella Weduwer, Policy Manager at Energy UK, said:

“We welcome the continuous commitment of energy suppliers towards customers in vulnerable circumstances, but we want to continue inspiring others to review their practices and consider their own processes to ensure they are offering customers appropriate support.”

Notes to Editor:

  1. The data used to put this report together has been gathered from the 11 suppliers that have voluntarily signed up to Energy UK’s Vulnerability Commitment, as well as a number of suppliers that have now exited the market.
  2. Current signatories of the Vulnerability Commitment are: British Gas, Bulb, E, Ecotricity, EDF, Octopus, Outfox the Market, OVO/SSE, ScottishPower, So Energy, and Utility Warehouse.
  3. ScottishPower Hardship Fund, which awards grants of up to £49 in the form of meter credit to prepayment customers who are currently, or at immediate risk of, self-disconnecting, and who are unable to afford to top-up their meter due to severe financial hardship.
  4. Energy UK is the trade association for the energy industry with over 100 members spanning every aspect of the energy sector – from established FTSE 100 companies right through to new, growing suppliers and generators, which now make up over half of our membership.  We represent the diverse nature of the UK’s energy industry with our members delivering over 80% of both the UK’s power generation and energy supply for the 28 million UK homes as well as businesses. The energy industry invests £13bn annually, delivers £31bn in gross value added on top of the £95bn in economic activity through its supply chain and interaction with other sectors, and supports 738,000 jobs in every corner of the country.                                                       
  5. Steve Crabb is the independent chair of the Vulnerability Commitment. He is a specialist in consumer strategy and policy, with a particular focus on the needs of customers in vulnerable circumstances, and on the energy and water industries.
  6. You can access the full “Good practice guide: Using smart data to identify and support pre-payment meter customers at risk”.                                                           
  7. Energy UK launched the Vulnerability Commitment in January 2021.
  8. Here is a link to the full set of principles and commitments which form the Vulnerability Commitment.