UK suppliers along with the government have agreed on emergency measures, to help protect consumers and ensure their power stays on throughout the current pandemic.
The agreement focuses on vulnerable people using pre-paid meters for their electricity who may not be able to make it out to top up their meters, or may fall into financial difficulties due to inability to work or other financial strains caused by COVID-19.
Measures include the ability to nominate a third party for credit top ups, having a discretionary fund added to consumers credit or being sent pre-loaded top up cards.
Additionally, suppliers are looking into debt repayments schemes and bill payments are being reassessed, reduced or paused where necessary in response to the crisis.
Disconnection of meters has been completely suspended for the time being to protect consumers.
Secretary of State for Business and Energy, Alok Sharma, said: “While friends and family will play a role in helping people impacted by the Coronavirus, we recognise there will be many customers who will need additional support and reassurance, particularly those who are financially impacted or in vulnerable circumstances.”
The measures are coming into place today (19 March) so “those most in need can rest assured that a secure supply of energy will continue to flow into their homes during this difficult time” added Sharma.
The UK’s energy sector has been working to respond more broadly to the crisis, with suppliers such as SSE and ScottishPower publishing statements to reassure customers.
“We understand how crucial our services are to the lives of millions of families, businesses and communities, across our energy networks, generation and retail operations. As the COVID-19 situation develops, we want to reassure you that we’re doing all we can to minimise service disruption during these challenging times,” said ScottishPower.
The desire to protect consumers as they face COVID-19 related struggles in the coming weeks and months has been echoed throughout the energy sector.
David Smith the chief executive of the Energy Networks Association, said:
“These are unprecedented times but the energy industry is working hard to keep gas and electricity flowing, look after our vulnerable customers and keep customers and staff safe. The UK’s electricity and gas network is one of the most reliable in the world and over 36,000 employees are working flat out to continue to provide a safe and reliable supply of energy during this time.”
The government's emergency measures ought to help protect four million consumers, it said.
The national regulator Ofgem has said that the system is well versed in dealing with critical events, “but we have not faced a pandemic of this scale so I want to make our position clear.
“COVID-19 is a national issue. The government is leading the response. This morning the government announced new emergency measures agreed with the energy industry to protect the domestic energy supply of those most in need during the disruption caused by COVID-19. Ofgem will do all it can to support their efforts to ensure that our energy customers and those working in the sector are protected as best they can.
“I am sure that all energy companies will continue to monitor all government advice and guidance. As the situation changes, it is important we maintain a constant dialogue between government, industry, consumer groups and Ofgem, so we can act if any problems arise.”
The International Energy Agency has called for the green energy transition not to be derailed by efforts to respond to the global COVID-19 emergency, stating that the “inescapable challenge” of climate change and global emissions must not be compromised by the “severe but likely to be temporary” impacts from the pandemic.
For updates on how COVID-19 is effecting the energy sector worldwide, checkout sister site PV Tech Power’s tracker.