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Ofgem report: British Gas among 17 energy suppliers instructed to improve approach to vulnerable customers

The energy regulator told 17 gas and electricity suppliers to improve the way they deal with vulnerable customers during the winter.

Ofgem said all companies that submitted data for the new report could do more to support customers in need in the colder months and beyond.

Five were found to have “serious weaknesses” in the way they dealt with vulnerable customers – meaning that “significant parts” of processes and policies were missing or inadequate, or their data suggested they were not “performing well” of consumers”.

The regulator published a series of reviews this year on how to support customers in the energy and cost crisis.

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The latest – published on Tuesday – looks at how the 17 largest energy companies deal with people in difficulty.

Evidence of good practice has been found, but all suppliers – including Octopus, Shell and British Gas – need to make further improvements. The five suppliers Ofgem found “serious weaknesses” were Good Energy, Outfox, SO Energy, TruEnergy and Utilita.

Five were found to have “moderate weaknesses”, including E (gas and electricity), Ecotricity, Green Energy UK and Octopus. The other was Shell, which recently announced that profits had doubled from last year.

Ofgem said the other seven – British Gas, Bulb, EDF, E.ON, Ovo, Scottish Power and Utility Warehouse – had “minor weaknesses” in supporting vulnerable customers. This meant Ofgem had identified room for improvement but found no evidence of “serious concerns”.

All of the companies told Ofgem how they identify and record which clients are in distress and whether they add them to the priority register.

They also asked Ofgem if they offer free gas safety checks to eligible households, identify vulnerable people on prepaid meters and provide information to customers.

The latest report comes two months after Ofgem said most energy companies need to make improvements to meet their pledges to support customers struggling to pay their bills.

Ofgem’s Neil Lawrence said: “From qualifying customers who are missing out on free gas security checks, to companies that fail to identify vulnerable customers to receive obvious support on the Priority Services Register, this extensive review has highlighted that suppliers need to do more to support consumers.

“We welcome the cooperation from suppliers and the actions taken so far, and while we see very good practices in some parts of the industry, we see that there is still a long way to go.”

Ofgem’s retail director said “most providers” take their responsibility to protect vulnerable customers seriously and that they have launched many new initiatives.

But despite some improvement, he said: “We saw many shortcomings in all areas that need to be addressed urgently. It’s going to be a very challenging winter for everyone, and customers need to make sure they’re getting the help and support they need.

“My message to suppliers today is simple – be proactive. Help your customers find out what support is available and then provide it.”

Peter Smith of the charity National Energy Action said: “We hope this report will act as a wake-up call and we will see a significant improvement in the way all suppliers are treating those who need support most.”

Simon Oscroft, co-founder of So Energy, said: “Over the past months and weeks, we have provided Ofgem with extensive additional information related to this review and we are disappointed that Ofgem has acted on incomplete information and in a manner that may now cause unnecessary concern to vulnerable customers.

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

Utilita said: “Ofgem’s report does not show where we are today as a company, nor does it confirm the significant progress we have made – and are making – since its initial assessment in early summer.

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

Rocio Concha, which one? director of policy and advocacy, said: “It is very worrying that Ofgem has discovered that so many energy companies are not getting the support they provide to their most vulnerable customers.

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

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