Energy suppliers accused of failing vulnerable customers - Debt Advice Foundation

Energy suppliers accused of failing vulnerable customers

As the fuel poverty crisis continues, energy suppliers are coming under fire for continuing to switch people to prepayment meters despite a letter from OFGEM last month reminding them of their obligations before doing this. OFGEM has identified significant failings within some companies where debt repayments are so high, that customers are having to self disconnect. Self-disconnection occurs when prepayment meter customers go off supply because the credit on the meter has been exhausted. In some cases there have been reports some customers are not aware they have been switched to prepayment.

In order to be a domestic supplier, an energy company has certain licence conditions that they must meet. When it comes to dealing with arrears, a supplier must treat all customers fairly and they need to make extra effort to identify and respond to the needs of anyone in a vulnerable situation. This includes assessing someone’s affordability to repay arrears and setting up payment plans.

Where a customer has an old style meter, and has arrears, a supplier must go through the court process in order to fit a prepayment meter. If the customer has a smart meter, this can be done remotely and does not require the permission of the court. Prepayment meters should only be used where it is safe and reasonable to do so and should not be installed or remotely switched without carrying out appropriate assessments, including identifying any vulnerability.

Based on OFGEM data, utility switching company Uswitch is forecasting 10,000 households per month could be switched to prepayment meters if current trends continue.

In a review conducted by the regulator OFGEM, they ranked firms in three customer support categories:

  • Severe weaknesses: Good Energy, Outfox, So Energy, Tru Energy and Utilita
  • Moderate weaknesses: E (Gas & Electricity), Ecotricity, Green Energy UK, Octopus and Shell
  • Minor weaknesses: British Gas, Bulb, EDF, E.ON, Ovo, Scottish Power and Utility Warehouse

Ofgem Chief executive Jonathan Brearley said customers faced ‘pot luck’ when calling their provider for help.

Some suppliers have responded to the report by stating the level of support they provide has increased in recent months and it does not represent where they are as a business today.

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