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Suppliers step up to help customers in need

A new report, published today by Energy UK, shows how energy suppliers have worked to help their most vulnerable customers get the support and advice they need.

14 Suppliers, covering around 70% of the domestic market, signed up to Energy UK’s Vulnerability Commitment, which came into effect at the start of this year, Signatories pledged to improve the standard, accessibility and consistency of support they provide to vulnerable households, signing up to a series of voluntary commitments that go above and beyond existing licence obligations.

The report was launched at an Energy UK Breakfast Briefing this morning reflecting on the first year of the Commitment and featuring panellists from Citizens Advice, Ofgem and OVO.   

The Commitment builds on a report by the independently-chaired Commission for Customers in Vulnerable Circumstances, established by Energy UK in 2018, which made a number of recommendations of how to continually improve service for all customers, including the creation of an independent Code of Conduct for suppliers. 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.   

An important part of the Commitment is that signatories are independently and rigorously assessed on their compliance with the Commitment by an expert panel. Today’s report looks at suppliers’ performance in three specific areas – highlighting case studies and examples of best practice across the sector:

Accessibility – signatories must show that customers have a range of ways in which they can contact them, including having an available freephone number. Suppliers have also supported callers with language difficulties and worked with disabled customers so that their websites meet accessibility standards. The report also highlights examples of where suppliers have used data and processes to alert prepayment meter customers when they are in danger of going off supply and to offer advice and support.

Collaboration – suppliers have supported and worked with consumer groups who can provide expert support for their customers including debt advice, financial support and help to identify and support carers.

Innovation – each signatory has appointed a ‘Vulnerability Champion’ at board level or equivalent to ensure commitment throughout their companies and suppliers have carried out customer research into issues like mental health, carers, self-disconnection, disability, bills and energy savings in order to improve their understanding and improve services further.  

The report also highlights best practice around developing staff and teams to deal with customers in vulnerable circumstances, increasing signatories to the Priority Services Register and recruiting staff from disadvantaged backgrounds.   

The report has found all suppliers to be compliant with the requirements of the Commitment, with some suppliers bringing forward action plans or changes to their ways of working in order to meet these.

Two suppliers – EDF and ScottishPower – have been awarded Gold Star ratings for evidence of outstanding practice in serving customers in vulnerable circumstances.

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

“The financial pressures suppliers currently face might have discouraged experimentation and a growth in services for customers who need extra help. In fact, the opposite has been true during the first year of the Commitment.

“It’s been rewarding seeing collaboration and innovation spread across the industry. In many cases this has been as a direct result of the Commitment and at an extremely challenging time for suppliers, third parties and, above all, for vulnerable customers. 

“There are still areas for improvement but by showing best practice, such as helping customers avoid self-disconnection, and by their willingness to have their performance rigorously scrutinised, suppliers have shown a commendable determination to go above and beyond.”  

Energy UK’s chief executive, Emma Pinchbeck, said:

“Despite the challenges of the pandemic and market conditions that, as has been evident from events this autumn, provide serious challenges for energy retailers, suppliers signed up to the Commitment have still gone the extra mile to help their vulnerable customers.

“This report highlights an impressive range of initiatives offered by suppliers to provide practical help and assistance to their customers who need it most, and I am extremely proud of the industry for stepping up in this way and at this time”.


Notes to Editors

  1. Current signatories to the Vulnerability Commitment are: British Gas, Bulb, E, Ecotricity, EDF, Octopus, Outfox the Market, OVO/SSE, ScottishPower, So Energy, Together Energy and Utility Warehouse. Green and Igloo Energy were also signatories but have since exited the retail market market.                                                                                                                                                                           

  2. 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.                                                        

  3. As well as Steve Crabb, the other members of the expert panel are Gillian Cooper, Head of Energy Policy at Citizens Advice and Audrey Gallacher, Deputy Chief Executive at Energy UK.                                                                                                                           

  4. Steve Crabb 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. He started his career as a business journalist, editing the multi-award winning ‘People Management’ magazine from 2000 to 2008 and being recognized by the British Society of Magazine Editors as ‘editor of the year’ in 2008.  He went on to hold senior roles in charities including the Alzheimer’s Society and the British Lung Foundation before setting up the first dedicated consumer vulnerability team at a global energy supplier and services company, where his consumer vulnerability and corporate citizenship remit covered the UK, Ireland and North America. He was commissioned by the Prime Minister’s dementia challenge group to create best practice guidance on the care of vulnerable older customers for the whole of the utilities sector, and served for three years in a personal capacity on Ofgem’s sustainable development advisory group. In 2020 he helped the water regulator Ofwat develop its future thinking on key consumer strategy issues including vulnerability. He has campaigned against ageism and other forms of discrimination in the workplace, and for the better treatment of people living with dementia and mental health challenges. He is a member of the advisory panel of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute.                                                                                                                       

  5. Energy UK launched the Vulnerability Commitment in December 2020 to take effect from 1st January 2021                                                                                                               

  6. Here is a link to the full set of principles and commitments which form the Vulnerability Commitment