The Commission for Customers in Vulnerable Circumstances
Vulnerability is a key issue for an industry providing an essential service to the public.
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.
The Commission’s report had a number of recommendations for the energy industry, the regulator, Government and beyond – all designed to improve services for customers who need extra support.
Independently chaired by Lord Whitty, with five expert Commissioners from a wide range of backgrounds, the report is the culmination of over a year of evidence gathering and engagement with various stakeholders through oral evidence sessions and written submissions, including sessions across Great Britain in Cardiff, Glasgow, Newcastle and London.
Hearing from expert witnesses and key organisations the Commission 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 believes will lead to better services for customers in vulnerable circumstances.
Commissioners identified 7 key themes:
- An end to inadequate and inconsistent service: Customers in vulnerable circumstances should be well served and supported, regardless of which company provides their energy.
- A comprehensive regulatory framework with timely support and protection: All customers should receive the same minimum level of service, support and regulatory protections, regardless of how their home is heated or who supplies their energy.
- Easy identification of needs and access to support from energy suppliers: It should be easy for customers to disclose information about any vulnerabilities – with security and privacy respected – and to be given effective support.
- A range of options to communicate with your supplier: Customers must be able to reach, and hear from, their supplier in a way that meets their needs.
- Effective links between suppliers and support organisations: Customers in vulnerable circumstances should benefit from effective links established between their energy supplier and organisations that provide support and advocacy.
- A smart energy system that works for and benefits customers in vulnerable circumstances: The transition to a smarter energy system should help, not hinder, the experiences of customers in vulnerable circumstances, particularly through improved support to prevent self-disconnection.
- Affordable energy usage: Customers struggling to afford their household bills should receive both short-term help to manage periods of difficulty and a long-term sustainable solution to reduce their energy costs.
Some of the key recommendations from the Commissioners include:
- Creating an independently monitored Code of Conduct for suppliers to drive up standards of support for customers in vulnerable circumstances.
- Suppliers and PCWs nominating a dedicated “vulnerability champion” on their Board with responsibility for the delivery of commitments to improve service to vulnerable households.
- Strengthening Ofgem’s licensing regime to ensure all suppliers operating in the market are equipped to support customers in vulnerable circumstances.
- Systematic training for all frontline staff to identify and proactively offer support to vulnerable households.
- Industry working together to raise awareness and the effectiveness of the Priority Service Register.
- Suppliers ensuring that a range of contact routes remain available to customers, including freephone numbers and paper-based communication.
- Suppliers developing and sharing innovative practice to monitor and tackle self-disconnection.
- Strengthening and streamlining partnerships between suppliers and charities to ensure people get access to all the help they need.
- Households served by heat networks and those using fuels like LPG and heating oil getting the same regulatory protection as those using gas and electricity.
- Retaining a social tariff for low-income vulnerable households after the current default price caps ends.
- The Government introducing a state-funded energy efficiency scheme for England to help tackle fuel poverty, matching those already in place in Scotland and Wales.
One of the main recommendations of the report is for suppliers to adopt a new, independently monitored Code of Conduct to drive up standards of support for customers in vulnerable circumstances. Energy UK took the lead on this and worked with suppliers, consumer bodies and the regulator to come up with the Vulnerability Commitment.