Ofgem
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More customers in vulnerable situations to receive help under the Priority Services Register

  • Suppliers will have to take all reasonable steps to identify customers in vulnerable situations, and offer to place them on the register
  • Broadened eligibility will see more customers get the help they need from suppliers and network operators
  • Only a quarter of consumers know that they can get help if they are on the Priority Services Register  

More customers in vulnerable situations will get extra help, under changes to the Priority Services Register(1) announced by Ofgem yesterday.

Those customers on the Priority Services Register can get free, vital services from network operators and suppliers to help them manage their energy. These include:

  • customers being given a password so that they can safely identify representatives who visit their house (all companies)
  • readings for customers who struggle to read their meter (suppliers)
  • advance notice of power cuts and information on any help available during emergencies (electricity distribution network operators)

Currently, only consumers who are disabled, chronically sick, or of pensionable age can get these services. Around 3.6 million electricity and 3 million gas customers (13% of customers for both fuels) are signed up to suppliers’ Priority Services Register(2).

Ofgem is broadening the eligibility criteria for the register from January, to include any energy customers in vulnerable situations who need it – including those whose situation is temporary(3). This could include customers with mental health issues which prevent them from understanding their bill, or who have injuries which stop them topping up their pre-payment meter.

The changes will enable hundreds of thousands more of the customers who are most in need to benefit from the services(4).

Rachel Fletcher, Senior Partner, Consumers and Competition, comments:

“Energy is an essential service. We want to see more consumers in vulnerable situations protected. That’s why we’re working with suppliers to make changes to Priority Services so many more consumers get the tailored help that they need.”

Suppliers will also be obliged to take all reasonable steps to identify these customers and offer them the free services. This means picking up on signs of vulnerability from their day-to-day interactions with customers(5). This is vital as, previous research from Ofgem shows that only 24 per cent of consumers are aware this support exists (2013). This is partly because customers have to ask for it.

Notes to editors

  1. Eligible customers can get free non-financial services related to access, safety and communication if they’re signed up to their supplier’s or network operator’s Priority Services Register. Ofgem also wants suppliers to provide customers with more flexible services, tailored to customers’ individual needs – for example establishing a picture card system for customers with learning difficulties so that representatives can enter the house. All these services will be available for customers in vulnerable situations whether those be of a permanent or a temporary nature. Network operators will now be required to offer Priority Services to people who live with children under five, as well continuing to provide for the current groups of eligible consumers.
  2. Figure from 2015 Ofgem’s annual Social Obligations Report (2016)
  3. The eligibility criteria is underpinned by the belief that a customer should not be disadvantaged as a result of being in a vulnerable situation. It includes permanent and temporary vulnerability, and reflects our definition outlined in the Consumer Vulnerability Strategy (2013)
  4. Total numbers of people on Priority Services will fluctuate as people’s circumstances change and they move on and off the register, however services will be better targeted to people who need them. For example 500,000 people reported mental health issues in the UK last year, who could now potentially be eligible for the services. Annual Population Survey ONS, March 2016.
  5. Separately, suppliers and network operators, will, in accordance with data protection and privacy laws, be required to share information about customers’ needs with each other.
  6. Decision to modify gas and electricity supply, electricity distribution and gas transporter licences for Priority Services Register arrangements.

 

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