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Energy customers who miss payments to get more help from firms

Energy customers who miss payments to get more help from firms
Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

New rules announced by Ofgem will require energy firms to contact customers if they miss two monthly or one quarterly payment.

Energy companies will need to check on customers who miss payments to assess if they are struggling with bills and, if so, to offer support such as affordable payment plans or repayment holidays.

Energy suppliers must also prioritise enquiries from vulnerable customers who need help under the new rules which will take effect from 14 December.

Crackdown on poor service

In a crackdown on poor customer service, energy suppliers will also need to publish Citizens Advice ratings of their service so the public can see how they compare on issues such as call waiting times and quality of responses.

In a speech to the Energy UK conference, Ofgem’s CEO Jonathan Brearley will challenge the energy sector “to meet the high standards set by some suppliers who were leading the way”.

Brearley will warn suppliers that where they are falling short on customer service standards, such as long call waiting times, the regulator will act.

The new standards – developed following a statutory consultation this summer – aim to make it easier for customers to contact their suppliers, ensure households who are struggling with bills are supported and improve overall customer satisfaction.

The introduction of the new rules into supplier license conditions means it will be easier for Ofgem to take action where there is evidence of suppliers failing to meet these requirements.

The new rules for energy suppliers

From December, energy suppliers will need to:

  • Be available via different contact methods and at times that meet customer needs
  • Prioritise vulnerable customers or those calling on their behalf and offer free contact methods for people struggling to pay their bills
  • Offer debt repayment plans at the earliest opportunity and consider offering temporary debt repayment holidays, where appropriate
  • Publish information on their Citizens Advice star rating in a prominent location and format that can be easily accessed by all customers.

Brearley said: “With recent global events increasing pressure on gas prices, it’s likely that bills will rise further. This is why the industry needs to do all it can to ensure good customer services and provide help with managing debt, especially for the most vulnerable.

“In the last year, we have seen some good examples of suppliers stepping up their support for customers. However, despite this, the feeling of those on the frontline working with vulnerable households is that more still needs to be done.

“Long wait times to speak to someone on the phone. Letters not replied to. Lack of empathy for people’s personal circumstances. This needs to change and today we are setting out our expectations of suppliers this winter, and how they will be held to account to ensure consumers can get hold of them more easily.

“In particular for vulnerable customers, we expect more proactivity and a more sympathetic response.”

Protection for prepayment customers

From December, Ofgem will also permanently end the prepayment meter (PPM) premium where prepayment customers are charged more than those who pay by direct debit. There will also be a new “crisis credit allowance” for PPM customers who are at risk of disconnecting because they can’t afford to top-up.

More households, including those with over 75s and under 2s, will be included in the protected category exempt from involuntary installation of a prepayment meter in their home.