The Money Advice Trust has welcomed calls from The Commission for Customers in Vulnerable Circumstances, launched last year by Energy UK, for immediate action to improve support for energy customers in vulnerable circumstances.
In its report the Commission outlines that despite some good practice, the energy sector is not consistently meeting the needs of customers and that ‘urgent action’ is required.
The Commission, chaired by Lord Whitty and comprising five Commissioners, including Money Advice Trust chief executive Joanna Elson OBE, was set up to explore how standards of care and support could be improved across the energy industry.
Recommendations within the report include:
- Setting-up an independently monitored Code of Conduct for suppliers to drive up standards of support for customers in vulnerable circumstances
- Strengthening Ofgem’s licensing regime to ensure all suppliers are equipped to support customers in vulnerable circumstances
- A strong focus from suppliers on training frontline staff to identify and support vulnerable households
- Strengthening partnerships between suppliers and the third sector to ensure people get the help they need
- The introduction of a state-funded energy efficiency scheme for England to help tackle fuel poverty.
In addition, the Commission outlines a number of important steps for customers who may be in financial difficulty, including supporting the government’s forthcoming statutory Breathing Space scheme. The Commission also calls on suppliers to not use High Court Enforcement Officers to recover debts owed by customers in vulnerable circumstances and to assist customers in maximizing their income.
Joanna Elson OBE, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, who served as a member of the Commission, said: “At National Debtline we are increasingly hearing from people struggling to meet everyday household costs.
“The Commission’s report puts the energy industry firmly under the spotlight. Significant work is needed to improve support for energy customers in vulnerable circumstances. As the report notes, there is good practice out there, but this support is inconsistent and varies greatly across the sector.
“Training frontline staff to identify customers in vulnerable circumstances is a crucial first step, while actions such as committing to not use High Court Enforcement Officers, can also make a big difference for the most vulnerable.
“There is an important role for the third sector to play alongside suppliers through greater partnership working. This could be through signposting to debt or energy saving advice, and helping people access financial help and other essential costs.
“We look forward to building on our work with energy firms to help them put into practice the recommendations from the Commission’s report.”