Cost of living: Three tips to save money on energy bills
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In its third review into the sector’s support for customers, particularly vulnerable ones Ofgem found all 17 energy firms in the UK displayed weaknesses in their services and “further improvement” was needed. Ofgem ranked the firms into three categories those who showed “severe” weaknesses, those who showed “moderate”, and those with “minor”. The regulator ranked five suppliers as having severe weaknesses which included Good Energy, Outfox, So Energy, Tru Energy and Utilita.
Moderate weaknesses were found in E (Gas & Electricity), Ecotricity, Green Energy UK, Octopus and Shell Energy’s services.
Seven companies were ranked as having minor weaknesses and those included British Gas, Bulb, EDF, E.ON, Ovo, Scottish Power and Utility Warehouse.
This meant Ofgem identified room for improvement but no evidence “of any significant concern”.
Neil Lawrence, director of retail at Ofgem told suppliers that his was “simple” and they needed to step up and “be proactive” by helping customers know what support is available and then delivering it.
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He said: “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.
“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 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.”
Ofgem said some of the worst examples of poor practice included suppliers failing to read the meters of customers who could not do so themselves.
In some cases, debt repayment rates were set so high that vulnerable customers “self-disconnected” which meant they did not top-up their prepayment meter when the credit ran out.
The regulator also found vulnerable customers were not being able to get through when they are off supply to top up their meter or request additional support credit.
Responding to Ofgem’s review Gillian Cooper, head of energy policy at Citizens Advice said energy providers should be doing “everything in their power” to identify and support struggling customers.
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She added: “Citizens Advice sees day in, day out the heartbreaking consequences when this support falls short. People cutting back on food and essentials to cover energy debts and living in cold and dark homes when they’ve simply run out of money to top up their meter.
“Ofgem is right to hold energy companies to task, it must now ensure this review leads to concrete action.”
Ofgem said it had shared the ratings with all suppliers earlier this month and, since then, has started compliance engagement on the areas for improvement.
It also stated it would be “keeping a close eye” on the actions taken by the energy firms to “close the gaps” identified in the review.
It noted that it would also consider enforcement action where necessary on energy companies that were not showing improvements.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Brearley that it was “pot luck” when reaching out to an energy company for help.
He said: “You might get a good adviser, you may also get someone who doesn’t do the things that are needed.”
However, even with this Mr Brearley advised people to continue reaching out to their suppliers for help as Ofgem is working with the suppliers to improve their support for vulnerable customers.
Once the energy provider knows what a person’s circumstance is, then it can tailor the type of support it can offer.
Ofgem also recommended people visit the Energy Aware campaign website to see what help has to be provided by all energy suppliers if someone is considered eligible for the Priority Services Register.
However, several suppliers hit back at the characterisation of the report.
A spokesman for Utilita said: “Ofgem’s report does not represent where we are as a business today, nor does it acknowledge the significant progress we have made – and are making – since its initial assessment in early summer.”
While Simon Oscroft, co-founder of So Energy, said: “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.”
Nigel Pocklington, CEO of Good Energy told Express.co.uk: “It is disappointing that once again Ofgem have published a verdict part way through the evidence-gathering process.
“Despite providing Ofgem with extensive information which addressed their concerns, it is regrettable that this publication does not account for this.
“Good Energy has an excellent record of taking care of vulnerable customers – including being independently assessed before joining Energy UK’s Vulnerability Commitment which aims to continually improve support – and we will be considering our actions off the back of this report.”
Dhara Vyas, director of advocacy at Energy UK, told the BBC: “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.”
Express.co.uk has also contacted Outfox and Tru Energy for comment.
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