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Electricity network to pay £15m after failing vulnerable customers

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Western Power Distribution will pay £14.9m for failing to provide power cut information to some of its most vulnerable customers, coupled with inadequate background checks on staff visiting their homes.

The largest electricity distribution network operator failed to promptly notify and update some of its 1.7 million Priority Services Register (PSR) customers affected by power cuts about when power would be restored, and what help was available to them.

Network companies are required to provide additional services to vulnerable customers on the PSR. This could include prompt information and advice during unplanned power cuts, mobile power generators, hot meals and drinks, alternative accommodation and on-site welfare units.

Currently, there are around six million customers registered for this priority service which is offered by network operators and energy suppliers.

The energy regulator, Ofgem, launched an investigation into WPD’s compliance with the PSR regulations in 2020.

It found WPD didn’t provide specific information on how to prepare for power cuts for the majority of its newly added PSR customers, with some waiting up to a year after signing up to get this information.

Ofgem said this made it harder for these vulnerable customers to “plan ahead to ensure their needs were met” and had access to the available help.

It added that this issue occurred over a period of five years.

Further, it failed to ensure all staff visiting the homes of customers, including those in vulnerable circumstances, had sufficient background checks, particularly DBS checks.

Since the investigation, Ofgem said WPD has acted to address all areas of concern, changing its policies, procedures and processes.

‘Totally unacceptable’

However, it has agreed to pay a voluntary £3.7m for each of the four licences it operates, totalling £14.9m to Ofgem’s redress fund which “reflects the seriousness of the failings and importance of complying with all regulatory obligations, especially concerning vulnerable customers”.

Cathryn Scott, director of enforcement and emerging issues at Ofgem, said: “WPD did not meet all of its obligations to provide additional support to some of its most vulnerable customers to safeguard their well-being. In our view it also took too long to put this right. This is totally unacceptable.

“Our enforcement against the company sends a strong message that when companies fail to provide the required services to their Priority Services Register customers, Ofgem will take action.”

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