The Commission for Customers in Vulnerable Circumstances has published a call for evidence on how service and support could be improved, holding a series of hearings around the UK to hear from the broadest possible spectrum of stakeholders – from consumer groups, those representing the elderly and people with disabilities, experts on financial vulnerability and mental health charities among others.
In recent years energy companies have made efforts to increase the support they provide to vulnerable customers. The independently chaired commission will eventually develop a new Vulnerability Charter to build on existing voluntary commitments.
Head of Policy and Public Affairs at disability charity, Scope, James Taylor, said: “Many disabled people are faced with no choice but to consume more energy due to their impairment or condition. These additional costs leave many disabled consumers and their families struggling to pay sky high energy bills. To make our energy market work for everyone, the Government, Ofgem and energy suppliers must work together to tackle this unfair financial penalty. We hope the Commission’s much-needed work will help address the barriers disabled people face as energy consumers.”
Drawing on the work of the Commission, Energy UK will be separately developing a new Vulnerability Charter to build on existing voluntary commitments and go further to support customers most in need.
Last year, Energy UK set up a dedicated vulnerability group and worked with the Money Advice Trust to look at vulnerability and mental health. A guide was produced to help identify and support consumers and provides practical tools for frontline staff to use with consumers in a range of vulnerable situations.
Launching the Commission is an important next step in an ongoing drive to improve customer service, consumer engagement and to ensure energy suppliers are meeting the needs of all their customers.
Chair of the Commission for Customers in Vulnerable Circumstances, 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 Chair 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.”
Lawrence Slade, chief executive of Energy UK, 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. These can be difficult to identify, are often complex, and can be temporary or permanent.”
“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.”
“I’d like to thank Lord Whitty for agreeing to take up the role as Chair and to encourage all stakeholders with views on how the energy industry can best support customers in vulnerable circumstances to respond to our call for evidence once we publish it.”
In the coming weeks, Energy UK will publish a Call for Evidence to seek submissions from the widest possible range of organisations including but not limited to charities and businesses that have experience working directly with people in vulnerable circumstances. We welcome examples from the energy industry as well as from other sectors and industries where experience there can provide important learning for suppliers. A final report will be launched towards the end of 2018.
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