On 19th October 2020, Ofgem (the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets) announced plans to strengthen protections for energy customers who are struggling to pay their energy bills. From the 15th of December, these proposed new protections will be in place for energy customers. These will come in the form of new licence rules for suppliers.
Prepayment customers struggling with energy costs
Energy suppliers will be required to provide emergency credit for struggling prepayment customers. This is intended to prevent ‘self-disconnection’ where the meter runs out of credit and the power supply is disconnected. In addition, extra prepayment credit will need to be provided for vulnerable households (e.g. those who cannot afford to top up temporarily, or get to their local shop to top up, or due to self-isolation etc).
How do energy suppliers usually supply emergency credit?
If the customer has a smart meter this can be done by the energy supplier remotely. The customer should get in contact with the with their energy supplier customer service department and advise of their difficulties in affording energy.
If a traditional key or card prepayment meter is in place, the customer should contact their supplier and advise that they are experiencing financial difficulties and require assistance. The supplier may send out a pre-loaded card through the post or send an engineer to help in more urgent circumstances.
Some suppliers will offer their customers a code that they can take to their local PayPoint (usually a convenience shop). They can give this code to the assistant serving them who usually load this onto blank top up keys / cards. When the key or card is put into the energy meter, this resets the meter with the credit agreed with the supplier.
Protections for customers in debt
New regulations will also obligate suppliers to provide customers with energy debt realistic and sustainable repayment plans. Energy suppliers should be proactive and contact consumers that they observe to be struggling. The supplier should base the terms of the plan on the customer’s ability to pay.
Responsibility for costs
Even when these regulations are implemented, the customer will still be responsible for energy costs and may be moved to a prepayment meter or disconnected if they are consistently missed.