More customers in vulnerable situations will get extra help, under changes to the Priority Services Register announced by Ofgem. 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.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. 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.
Rachel Fletcher, Senior Partner, Consumers and Competition at Ofgem said “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. 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.”
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice “A sudden change in circumstances can leave people needing extra support to manage their gas and electricity. Health problems or being injured can alter someone’s ability to carry out routine tasks, such as topping up a meter or paying bills. The welcome reforms announced by Ofgem today should make things easier for people whose circumstances have changed dramatically. More people in vulnerable situations will now be able to get the adjustments they need, such as getting a meter moved for free or being prioritised for reconnection when their supply goes down. It is important that suppliers now put these reforms into practice by identifying all vulnerable consumers and providing them with the support they need through the Priority Services Register.”