Energy industry to investigate improved standards for vulnerable customers

The energy industry is to investigate how it can improve its standards of care and support for vulnerable customers.

Trade association Energy UK has launched a new independently-chaired commission which will hold hearings across the UK over the coming months to hear from consumer, elderly, disability and mental health groups as well as experts on financial vulnerability.

It will consider how vulnerability affects a customer's ability to engage with the energy market and how suppliers, government departments and regulator Ofgem contribute to care and support for those in vulnerable circumstances.

A final report with recommendations will be released towards the end of this year.

Energy UK said the commission was an important next step in its efforts to improve customer service and to ensure suppliers were meeting the needs of all their customers.

Last year a study by Ofgem of vulnerable consumers in the energy market concluded that their experiences continued to "vary widely" and urged the industry to "drive up standards".

Last week Ofgem announced it was hiking a price cap aimed at protecting vulnerable and pre-payment customers.

Ofgem said it was increasing the level of its safeguard tariff from April 1, meaning the average dual fuel bill will rise from £1,031 to £1,089 a year due to higher gas and electricity costs.

It followed the regulator extending its safeguard tariff to almost one million vulnerable customers on February 2, taking the total number of households protected by the energy tariff to more than 5 million.

The commission's chairman, Lord Whitty, said: "Vulnerability of all kinds present a range of challenges for the energy industry and I'm pleased to have the opportunity to take on the role of chairman of the new commission to explore how energy suppliers, and wider sectors both public and private, can best serve, support and protect customers in vulnerable circumstances.

"I look forward to working with all concerned to progress this vital work, and to build on the hard work and progress made so far by the energy sector."

Energy UK chief executive Lawrence Slade said: "Identifying customers in vulnerable circumstances and providing the appropriate support customers need, and want, is a challenge that is not unique to energy companies - across our society we need to take huge leaps forward in recognising and responding to the impact of vulnerable circumstances.

"The launch of the commission is an important further step forward for the energy industry that believes strongly in improving customer service and support for all consumers, particularly those most in need."

James Taylor, head of policy and public affairs at disability charity Scope, said many disabled people consume more energy due to their condition.

"These additional costs leave many disabled consumers and their families struggling to pay sky high energy bills," he said.

"We hope the commission's much-needed work will help address the barriers disabled people face as energy consumers."

An Ofgem spokeswoman said: "We welcome this initiative by Energy UK to help improve suppliers' performance for vulnerable energy customers.

"We look forward to seeing its findings, and are keen to see prompt and positive action for vulnerable consumers."

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