All 17 of the UK’s energy suppliers need to do more to support “customers in a vulnerable situation” Ofgem has revealed as part of a Market Compliance Review.
With the energy crisis’ grip tightening heading into the winter months alongside the UK sliding into recession, there is a greater need for energy suppliers to provide sufficient support for those who are deemed as vulnerable across the country.
Despite this obligation, Ofgem has found that all 17 energy suppliers are currently not doing enough to support vulnerable customers despite their due diligence to protect such demographic. Because of this, Ofgem has called on all suppliers to increase this support and actively seek improvements to their services.
All suppliers were separated into three different categories highlighting severe weaknesses, moderate weaknesses and minor weaknesses.
Five suppliers, Good Energy, Outfox, So Energy, TruEnergy and Utilita, were found in having severe weaknesses in supporting vulnerable customers.
In the moderate weaknesses category, another five suppliers were identified: E (Gas and Electricity), Ecotricity, Green Energy UK, Octopus Energy and Shell.
Energy suppliers that were found to have minor weaknesses include British Gas, Bulb, E.ON, Ovo Energy, Scottish Power and Utility Warehouse.
Ofgem has stated that throughout the process, suppliers had engaged positively and recognised swift action was needed to improve support for vulnerable households. This open and cooperative approach to improving protections for vulnerable customers had been welcomed by the energy regulator.
“From eligible customers who are missing out on free gas safety checks through to companies not identifying vulnerable customers to be offered obvious support on the Priority Services Register, this robust review has highlighted that suppliers need to do more to support consumers,” said Neil Lawrence, director of retail at Ofgem.
“Most suppliers take the protection of vulnerable customers seriously and several good initiatives to support customers have been launched recently. While it’s encouraging to see the engagement on this Market Compliance Review, with some improvement actions already taking place, we’ve seen a number of failings across the board which need to be urgently addressed.
“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.”
Although weaknesses had been identified within each of the energy suppliers’ practices, some positive aspects had been recognised. This includes some suppliers offering cash grants towards energy bills for customers and many energy companies signing up to Energy UK’s Vulnerability Commitment.
This commitment is designed to go above and beyond existing licence obligations and includes requirements to implement specific training for frontline staff, assign a dedicated board-level or equivalent vulnerability champion and undertake consumer research.
Signatories of the commitment include British Gas, Bulb, E, Ecotricity, EDF, Good Energy, Octopus, Outfox the Market, OVO, Scottish Power, So Energy and Utility Warehouse. Good energy had been the latest to join.
Commenting on the weaknesses found in vulnerable customers by energy suppliers, Energy UK’s director of advocacy, Dhara Vyas, said: “Identifying and supporting vulnerable customers is already a top priority for retail suppliers, and many go above and beyond as demonstrated in our good practice summary of our vulnerability commitment.
“This includes setting up and training dedicated teams, providing millions of pounds in customer support funding, partnering with charities and third parties and encouraging people to sign up to the Priority Services Register.
“Our members have responded swiftly to Ofgem’s review – including providing additional documentation to demonstrate where processes were already in place and will continue to look at all the ways they can make sure people get the help and support they need.”
In relation to the review and being found to have severe weaknesses, Simon Oscroft co-founder of So Energy has stated he is “disappointed” with the review, claiming it is on the basis of incomplete information. This is also reflected in a statement made by Good Energy.
“Over the course of the last months and weeks, we have provided Ofgem with extensive additional information related to this review and we are disappointed that Ofgem has proceeded on the basis of incomplete information, and in a manner that may now cause vulnerable customers unnecessary concern,” Oscroft said.
“For the avoidance of doubt, So Energy has never switched a smart meter equipped customer from credit to prepay without their knowledge and consent and has an approach to customer vulnerability that is in line with our caring and honest values.”
A previous Market Compliance Review conducted by Ofgem found the majority of energy suppliers have minor, moderate or severe weaknesses in their current practices towards customers.
This review explored how suppliers help customers in payment difficulties. Within this, three suppliers had been identified in having severe weaknesses, eight suppliers had minor, five had moderate issues and just one supplier had no issues at all.