The UK government has agreed on new emergency measures with the energy industry to protect the domestic energy supply of energy-poor citizens during the disruption caused by COVID-19.
As of 18 March, UK consumers with pre-payment meters who may not be able to add credit can speak to their supplier about options to keep them supplied. According to a government statement, this will benefit over 4 million customers.
Options include nominating a third party for credit top-ups, having a discretionary fund added to their credit, or being sent a pre-loaded top-up card so that their supply is not interrupted.
More broadly, any energy customer in financial distress will also be supported by their supplier, which could include debt repayments and bill payments being reassessed, reduced or paused where necessary, while disconnection of credit meters will be completely suspended.
Ofgem has advised all consumers using older-technology electricity meters leave the meter box unlocked if they need someone else to top up the meter. Smart meter customers should be able to top-up remotely, such as by phone, mobile application or online.
Secretary of State for Business and Energy, Alok Sharma, said: “While friends and family will play a role in helping people impacted by the Coronavirus, we recognise there will be many customers who will need additional support and reassurance, particularly those who are financially impacted or in vulnerable circumstances.
“The government has committed to do whatever it takes to get our nation through the impacts of this coronavirus pandemic. Today those most in need can rest assured that a secure supply of energy will continue to flow into their homes during this difficult time.”
The government and energy industry, including network operator Ofgem have agreed to prioritise those existing customers most in need, while identifying customers whose circumstances may have changed as a direct or indirect result of COVID-19.
Chief executive of Citizens Advice, Dame Gillian Guy, said: “This is an uncertain time for many people. Energy suppliers need to play their part by communicating clearly and supporting their customers as much as possible. Keeping people on supply, making sure they have warm homes and don’t face additional financial or other stresses about their energy supply will be essential.”
Suppliers will need to put in place support measures for people on prepayment meters, people and families who need to self-isolate or take steps to reduce social contact.
Ofgem will continue to ensure suppliers meet their regulatory obligations. However, the government also recognises this will be a challenging time for many supply businesses.
The UK chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has set out a package of targeted measures to support businesses through this period of disruption caused by COVID-19, including £330 billion for companies to access loans, a business rates holiday, and help for small firms without insurance. In addition, a new temporary Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme is to be launched in days to support businesses access £1 billion (approximately $1.16 billion) of additional bank lending.