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UK energy firms accused of 'failing' to aid vulnerable customers

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Regulator Ofgem said that a review had identified “severe weaknesses” at five suppliers: Good Energy, Outfox, SO Energy, Tru Energy and Utilita. It comes as all 17 suppliers who submitted data to the regulator were told they had to improve their practices.

The firms had told Ofgem how they identify and keep a record of which customers are in a vulnerable situation and whether they add them to a priority register.

They also set out to Ofgem whether they were offering free gas safety checks to eligible households, identifying those on pre-payment meters who are vulnerable, and providing information to customers.

Ofgem’s director of Retail Neil Lawrence said: “From eligible customers who are missing out on free gas safety checks through to companies not identifying vulnerable customers to be offered obvious support on the Priority Services Register, this robust review has highlighted that suppliers need to do more to support consumers.

“We welcome the cooperation from suppliers and action taken so far, and, 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 said that “most suppliers” take their responsibility to protect vulnerable customers seriously and that they have launched many new initiatives.

But despite some improvement, he said: “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.

“My message to suppliers today is simple – be proactive. Help your customers to know what support is available, and then deliver it.”

The report found “moderate weaknesses” at suppliers E (Gas & Electricity), Ecotricity, Green Energy UK, Octopus and Shell. It said that seven others had shown minor weaknesses: British Gas, Bulb, EDF, E.ON, Ovo, Scottish Power and Utility Warehouse.

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

“For the avoidance of doubt, So Energy has never switched a smart meter-equipped customer from credit to prepay without their knowledge and consent, and has an approach to customer vulnerability that is in line with our caring and honest values.”

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.

“As such, we look forward to seeing Ofgem’s updated report in the near future.”

Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, said: “It’s 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.

“Energy firms must urgently up their game and do everything they can to support their customers through this crisis, especially those most in need.”



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