Energy companies failing vulnerable customers

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The industry regulator discovered a failure to supply customers with the support they needed, which induced not providing free gas safety and vulnerable customers unable to contact energy companies to top up their meters. Ofgem also said one of the worst examples of poor service by the energy company’s reviewed included failing to read the meters for customers who are unable to do so themselves.

Ofgem’s Director of Retail, Neil Lawrence, said that “most suppliers” that were reviewed took their responsibility to protect their vulnerable customers seriously and that the energy company had launched new initiatives in response to Ofgem’s new findings.

Mr Lawrence said: “Although we are seeing some very good practice in parts of the industry, we can see there is still much more to be done.”

He added: “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.”

The latest review by Ofgem required energy suppliers to give evidence of how the companies were able to identify and keep records of vulnerable customers, and if those found to be vulnerable were added to a priority list to receive help.

All suppliers that participated in the review were told they have to improve their practices.

This was Ofgem’s third review into how energy companies treat their customer base, as the first investigated the rise in direct debit demands and the second review discovered more help was needed with payment plans for customers who were struggling to pay their energy bills.

Companies that were found to have “moderate weaknesses” in their practices were E (Gas & Electricity), Ecotricity, Green Energy UK, Octopus and Shell.

Ofgem found that seven had shown minor weaknesses, which are British Gas, Bulb, EDF, E.ON, Ovo, Scottish Power and Utility Warehouse.

The five energy supplier’s reported as having “severe weaknesses” were Good Energy, Outfox, So Energy, Tru Energy and Utilita.

Severe weaknesses meant the energy supplier was “either found that a significant proportion of the supplier’s processes and policies were missing or inadequate, or their data indicated that they are not achieving good consumer outcomes”.

Some of the suppliers named as having the biggest issues have had a strong response to the review, with some calling the review “incomplete”.

The Co-founder of So Energy Simon Oscroft said: “Over the course of the last months and weeks, we have provided Ofgem with extensive additional information related to this review.

“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.”

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.”

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A representative from the consumer group Which?, Rocio Concha has said energy companies need to improve in order to help those on the lowest incomes.

She said: “It is hugely concerning to see Ofgem has found that so many energy firms are falling short on the support they provide to their most vulnerable customers.”

However, Energy UK, which represents many energy companies, has said many of the suppliers have gone above what they were required to do for customers by Ofgem.

Director of Advocacy at Energy UK, Dhara Vyas, said: “Our members have responded swiftly to Ofgem’s review – including providing additional documentation to demonstrate where processes were already in place.”

She continued: “[They] will continue to look at all the ways they can make sure people get the help and support they need.”

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