British Gas among 17 energy suppliers told to improve approach to vulnerable customers

‘We hope this report acts as a wake-up call,’ charity says

Zoe Tidman,August Graham
Tuesday 22 November 2022 13:23 GMT
<p>‘Severe weaknesses’ found in five suppliers, Ofgem says </p>

‘Severe weaknesses’ found in five suppliers, Ofgem says

An energy regulator has told 17 gas and electricity suppliers to improve how they deal with vulnerable customers over winter.

Ofgem found all companies who submitted data for a new report could do more to support customers in need in the colder months and beyond.

It said five had “severe weaknesses” in how they dealt with vulnerable customers – meaning a “significant proportion” of processes and policies were missing or inadequate, or their data suggested they were not achieving “good consumer outcomes”.

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Neil Lawrence from Ofgem said: “From eligible customers who are missing out on free gas safety checks through to companies not identifying vulnerable customers to be offered obvious support on the Priority Services Register, this robust review has highlighted that suppliers need to do more to support consumers.

“We welcome the cooperation from suppliers and action taken so far, and, although we are seeing some very good practice in parts of the industry, we can see there is still much more to be done.”

The regulator has published a series of reviews this year on support for customers in the energy and cost of living crisis.

The latest one – published on Tuesday – looks at how 17 of the biggest energy companies deal with those in a vulnerable situation.

It found evidence of some good practice, but said all suppliers – including Octopus, Shell and British Gas – needed to make further improvements. The five suppliers that Ofgem found had “severe weaknesses” were Good Energy, Outfox, SO Energy, TruEnergy and Utilita.

It said five had “moderate weaknesses”, including E (Gas & Electricity), Ecotricity, Green Energy UK and Octopus. The other was Shell, which recently announced profits that had doubled from last year.

Ofgem said the remaining seven – British Gas, Bulb, EDF, E.ON, Ovo, Scottish Power and Utility Warehouse – had “minor weaknesses” in their support for vulnerable customers. This meant Ofgem identified room for improvement but no evidence “of any significant concern”.

The firms had all told Ofgem how they identify and keep a record of which customers are in a vulnerable situation and whether they add them to a priority register.

They also set out to Ofgem whether they were offering free gas safety checks to eligible households, identifying those on pre-payment meters who are vulnerable, and providing information to customers.

The latest report comes two months after Ofgem said most energy companies needed to make improvements to meet their obligations to support customers struggling to pay their bills.

Mr Lawrence, Ofgem’s retail director, said “most suppliers” take their responsibility to protect vulnerable customers seriously and that they have launched many new initiatives.

But despite some improvement, he said: “We’ve seen a number of failings across the board which need to be urgently addressed. It’s going to be a very challenging winter for everyone and customers must be confident they are getting the help and support they need.

“My message to suppliers today is simple – be proactive. Help your customers to know what support is available, and then deliver it.”

Peter Smith from the National Energy Action charity said: “We hope this report acts as a wake-up call and we see big improvements in how all suppliers treat those most in need of their support.”

Simon Oscroft, co-founder of So Energy, said: “Over the course of the last months and weeks, we have provided Ofgem with extensive additional information related to this review and we are disappointed that Ofgem has proceeded on the basis of incomplete information, and in a manner that may now cause vulnerable customers unnecessary concern.

“For the avoidance of doubt, So Energy has never switched a smart meter-equipped customer from credit to prepay without their knowledge and consent, and has an approach to customer vulnerability that is in line with our caring and honest values.”

Utilita said: “Ofgem’s report does not represent where we are as a business today, nor does it acknowledge the significant progress we have made – and are making – since its initial assessment in early summer.

“As such, we look forward to seeing Ofgem’s updated report in the near future.”

Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, said: “It’s hugely concerning to see Ofgem has found that so many energy firms are falling short on the support they provide to their most vulnerable customers.

“Energy firms must urgently up their game and do everything they can to support their customers through this crisis, especially those most in need.”

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