Initiatives to help vulnerable customers in U.K.


London, U.K. — (METERING.COM) — August 7, 2007 – All six of the big energy suppliers in the U.K. have an extensive range of programmes in place to support vulnerable or fuel poor consumers – and most consumers say they would prefer to take some sort of positive action if they were having difficulty paying their bills.

These are among the main conclusions from two new surveys from the energy regulator Ofgem, on supplier initiatives to help vulnerable customers and on consumer awareness of supplier social responsibility initiatives.

Ofgem says in its review of initiatives to help vulnerable customers that the different suppliers have taken different approaches:

  • British Gas’ Essentials tariff offers eligible prepayment and standard credit customers a rate equivalent to the utility’s direct debit tariff, with approximately 300,000 customers (2 percent) on this tariff.
  • EDF Energy’s social tariff applies a 15 percent discount to customers’ bills, and is offered to around 60,000 customers (1 percent) who are considered at particular risk of fuel poverty.
  • SSE has the lowest priced social tariff, which with its specific individual needs based targetting has about 10,000 customers.
  • Powergen offers over-60s a fixed bill tariff for a year at a time, with currently 365,000 (9 percent) of customers on this tariff. As part of an initiative with Age Concern it also provided a £10 cold weather payment to 160,000 gas customers last year.
  • Scottish Power does not have any form of social tariff but has lowered its prepayment meter rates below its standard credit rate. It also provided a £50 rebate to 5,000 Priority Service Register (PSR) customers last year.
  • npower’s First Steps tariff is aligned with its best available offer – currently its online tariff – and is targeted on an individual needs basis currently to around 1,000 customers. It also provided an average £16 rebate to its 43,000 PSR customers last year.

All suppliers, apart from SSE, also have some form of trust fund, with British Gas, EDF Energy and Scottish Power having each spent £1 to 2 million on their funds in the last year. In addition all the suppliers have wider corporate social responsibility programs and provide support to fuel poor and vulnerable customers.

Ofgem says in the review that there is no silver bullet for tackling fuel poverty, and that the range and variety of the different types of initiatives is a strength of the voluntary approach. Moreover

In the second review on consumer awareness of the supplier initiatives, just over half of customers said they would contact their supplier if they were having difficulty paying their bills, while the remainder would either contact a third party consumer organisation for advice, make their own arrangements or reduce their energy use. However, more than 60 percent were not aware of the forms of assistance available from suppliers, with the over-65 group the least aware.

The reviews are aimed at informing the debate on the future role of social tariffs and the consideration of legislation to require suppliers to have an adequate programme of support for their most vulnerable customers.