Energy suppliers to help thousands more vulnerable customers, says regulator
More energy customers in vulnerable situations are to receive extra help from their suppliers under changes announced by Ofgem.
The regulator said hundreds of thousands more customers will be able to benefit from extra help from January when eligibility criteria for the Priority Services Register is broadened.
Currently, only consumers who are disabled, chronically sick, or of pensionable age have access to the services, which include passwords to identify company representatives, readings for those who struggle to read their meter and advance notice of power cuts.
Around 3.6 million electricity and three million gas customers are signed up to the register.
From January, eligibility will be extended to any customers in vulnerable situations who need it.
This includes those whose situation is temporary, and could include people with mental health issues which prevent them from understanding their bill, or anyone with an injury which stops them topping up their pre-payment meter.
Suppliers will also have to take all reasonable steps to identify those eligible, meaning they will have to pick up on signs of vulnerability from their day-to-day interactions with customers, Ofgem said.
This follows previous research from Ofgem which found that only 24% of customers are aware this support exists, partly because they have to ask for it.
Ofgem senior partner for consumers and competition Rachel Fletcher said: "Energy is an essential service. We want to see more consumers in vulnerable situations protected.
"That's why we're working with energy companies to make changes to Priority Services so many more consumers get the tailored help that they need."
Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said: " A sudden change in circumstances can leave people needing extra support to manage their gas and electricity. Health problems or being injured can alter someone's ability to carry out routine tasks, such as topping up a meter or paying bills.
"The welcome reforms announced by Ofgem today should make things easier for people whose circumstances have changed dramatically. More people in vulnerable situations will now be able to get the adjustments they need, such as getting a meter moved for free or being prioritised for reconnection when their supply goes down.
"It is important that suppliers now put these reforms into practice by identifying all vulnerable consumers and providing them with the support they need through the Priority Services Register."
Energy UK said: " Energy suppliers take their responsibility for all customers extremely seriously. There is plenty of help available ranging from energy efficiency measures, bill rebates and trust funds to help those in debt. The changes to the Priority Services Register means even more people will get the extra support they need.
"Suppliers are now even more sensitive to a person's individual circumstances. This is a big step forward."