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Scottish Power and Utilita under fire over vulnerable customer ‘failings’

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

The energy regulator has set out a number of measures Scottish Power and Utilita must adopt following a review which found “apparent failings” in the way they treat vulnerable customers.

Ofgem has issued provisional orders to the energy companies relating to “apparent failings” around the way Scottish Power sets debt repayment plans and deals with customers struggling with bills, and “Utilita’s lack of support for vulnerable customers”.

As such, Scottish Power has been ordered to pause disconnections for customers with active, agreed or overdue repayment plans of £5 per week (per fuel) or below, as well as contact and review all these customers “to ensure they are based on each customer’s ability to pay”.

It is also required to review and update all call scripts, training materials, policies, communications with customers, and provide training for company staff “to ensure they reflect there is no default minimum repayment amount.

Further, Scottish Power will need to commission an independent audit of its processes “to assess whether they have been effectively implemented” with the report to be passed to Ofgem no later than 31 October 2022.

Meanwhile, the energy giant will also need to “fully engage” with Citizens Advice and the Ombudsman Services “to ensure all referrals and off supply incidents are reassessed in line with the service level conditions”.

Turning to Utilita, Ofgem said it needs to stop the use of call scripts which tell customers that additional support credit isn’t a licence requirement. It also needs to take a customer’s ability to pay into account for all repayment plan calculations and where credit is offered, it must calculate the repayment instalments.

Further, by 30 September, Utilita needs to review cases where customers have been off supply to ensure they’re offered credit where required and “assess whether prepayment meters remain a safe payment method”. Lastly, an independent audit needs to be submitted by 31 October.

‘Vital importance of protecting customers’

Cathryn Scott, Ofgem enforcement and emerging issues director, said: “These orders to Utilita and Scottish Power are a clear signal to suppliers about the vital importance of protecting customers.

“The rise in the cost of living is an increasingly important public issue, and we expect urgent and immediate action on the points raised, as well as constructive engagement with Ofgem during the process.

“Suppliers must consider a customer’s vulnerability and ability to pay to a closer degree, particularly with what is likely to be a very challenging winter for many.”

What do the energy suppliers say?

A Scottish Power spokesperson, said: “We’re disappointed that all of the effort our staff make to help our customers manage affordability challenges has resulted in this conclusion from Ofgem. We will now work with Ofgem to implement their recommendations.”

A Utilita spokesperson, said: “We are disappointed that Ofgem has decided to issue a Provisional Order against us.

“Only a few short weeks ago a senior staff member from Ofgem visited our contact centre and was full of praise for the way we help our customers, of which one in three are on our Priority Services Register.

“The regulator has also highlighted our Power Up app feature, which allows customers to self-serve additional support credit when they have no money, as one of the industry’s most innovative solutions in helping customers in financial difficulty.

“The financial support we offer is extensive: in 2022 alone, we will provide financial assistance more than a million times to customers who desperately need our help.

“We are proud of the fact we have helped to shape industry best practice in helping vulnerable households. We have led the way in this space for more than a decade – largely thanks to our early adoption of smart technology – and will continue to do so.

“We are deeply committed to supporting our 800,000 customers through these hard times – constantly looking for new ways to help them – and will continue ongoing dialogue with Ofgem to address its concerns.”