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Energy regulator names and shames suppliers failing vulnerable users

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

Ofgem has published a list of energy firms with major shortcomings in the way they treat vulnerable customers. Has your provider been named and shamed?

The energy regulator has pulled up all 17 of the largest providers it reviewed over the way they treat vulnerable customers, such as whether users are added to the Priority Services Register or receive free gas safety checks.

Ofgem revealed it found “severe weaknesses” at five suppliers, including Good Energy, Outfox, SO Energy, TruEnergy and Utilita.

It said there were “moderate weaknesses” at five suppliers, including E (Gas & Electricity), Ecotricity, Green Energy UK, Octopus and Shell.

Meanwhile, it said there were “minor weaknesses” at seven suppliers, including British Gas, Bulb, EDF, E.ON, Ovo, Scottish Power and Utility Warehouse.

Ofgem which shared its finding with the suppliers in October, but only published the details today, said they are taking “swift action to make the improvements needed”.

What did Ofgem find?

As part of its latest “deep dive” into how energy suppliers are helping customers this winter and beyond, it focussed on how firms treat ‘customers in a vulnerable situation’.

This is defined as where the personal circumstances and characteristics create a situation where someone is significantly less able than a typical customer to protect or represent their interests and/or where they are significantly more likely than a typical user to suffer detriment or that detriment is likely to be more substantial.

It looked at whether firms were able to identify and record these customers, and whether they were added to the Priority Services Register which provides further support to these customers.

Ofgem checked whether they made free gas safety check available to eligible customers and that those on prepayment meters were also identified and supported.

Further, it wanted to see firms provide “useful information” appropriate to customer needs.

As it identified shortcomings, firms will now need to have clearer policies and procedures to identify customers in vulnerable circumstances and ensure customer-facing staff are trained “appropriately”, while third-party representatives also need to “act in line with required standards”.

They also need to show how risks associated with these customers are identified, recorded, assessed and avoided; identify who’s responsible for making decisions; show how self-disconnecting prepayment meter users are identified and supported and have more robust audit procedures.

It said it will be keeping a “close eye on actions taken to close the gaps identified through this assessment and will consider enforcement action where necessary”.

Ofgem has already issued enforcement notices to Tru Energy and Scottish Power over their failings.

‘Be proactive – much more to be done’

Neil Lawrence, director of retail at Ofgem, said: “From eligible customers who are missing out on free gas safety checks through to companies not identifying vulnerable customers who can 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.”

Lawrence added that while most suppliers take the protection of vulnerable customers seriously and several good initiatives to support customers have been launched recently, “we’ve seen a number of failings across the board which need to be urgently addressed”.

He said: “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.”

Earlier this month, Ofgem revealed it had seen cases of smart meter customers who had been automatically switched to prepayment meter, leading some to be without power for weeks in the worst scenario.