With no new financial assistance as yet available from the government to help people who are struggling to pay their energy bills this winter, in December 2023 Ofgem announced new standards designed to make it easier for customers to contact their energy supplier and ensure struggling households are supported.
Under Ofgem’s new rules energy suppliers must get in touch with customers who miss two monthly or one quarterly payment. The aim is to make sure suppliers are checking to see if customers are struggling with bills and if so, offer support, such as affordable payment plans or repayment holidays. Suppliers have also been told they must prioritise vulnerable customers. In this blog we’ll take a look at Ofgem’s new requirements and reveal how we can help energy suppliers to prioritise vulnerable customers and support those struggling with their bills.
In his speech to the Energy UK conference in October 2023, Ofgem’s CEO Jonathan Brearley welcomed the progress made since 2022, but challenged the whole energy sector to meet the high standards set by some suppliers who were leading the way. He also warned suppliers that those that fell short on customer service standards would have action taken against them. He pointed out recent examples of energy firms that had made multi-million-pound payments due to poor customer service, such as unacceptably long call waiting times and call drop-off rates.
So what are Ofgem’s new standards?
The new requirements announced on the 14th December include:
- Be available via different contact methods and at times that meet customer needs.
- Prioritise vulnerable customers or those calling on their behalf and offer free contact methods for people struggling to pay their bills.
- Offer debt repayment plans at the earliest opportunity and consider offering temporary debt repayment holidays, where appropriate.
- Make it easier for consumers to see how good suppliers’ customer service is by making suppliers publish information on their Citizens Advice star rating in a prominent location and format that can be easily accessed by all its customers.
What constitutes ‘vulnerable’?
The identification and prioritisation of vulnerable customers is now central to all energy supplier’s customer support obligations. But what constitutes “vulnerable”? A person is considered vulnerable if they are chronically ill or have a long-term medical condition; have hearing or visual impairment or other communication needs; have children under the age of five living with them; and/or have a mental health condition that causes difficulty in understanding their bill.
How we can help utilities detect vulnerabilities
We can take any supplier’s customer data, combine it with open source data and using data science, we will profile your customers to help identify those that might fall into a vulnerable category. We can then segment customers according to the category they fall into. We can also analyse a household’s energy consumption based on meter data, to detect abnormal usage from inefficient households and households at risk of self-disconnection.
The type of support that a ‘vulnerable’ customer requires will very much depend on their individual circumstances. Having profiled and segmented your potentially vulnerable customers, our customer engagement platform enables us to communicate with individuals with personalised and appropriate support messages and information through a channel of their choosing – whether that’s paper copy through the post, SMS or email. The messages can be designed to help them reduce their consumption and their bills, and/or provide advice on appropriate support measures that are available to them.
Our team of behavioural science experts help design solutions that work at scale, making things easier for customers to get the assistance they need and deserve. The platform also measures the tangible impact that results from our customer engagement services and features reports that can be integrated into a supplier’s regulatory progress reports.
It’s what we’ve been doing as part of Southern Water’s Water4All scheme. Water companies have specific initiatives aimed at supporting customers, but there is an urgent need to help better identify and support low-income and vulnerable households. Funded by Ofwat, “Water4All”, led by Southern Water, aims to proactively identify and engage customers that are financially vulnerable to offer them support by increasing access to social tariffs and assistance programmes provided by Water Companies and their partners. We are delighted to be part of a consortium of multi-sector experts that is helping Southern Water deliver the scheme. Read more about how we are supporting Southern Water’s Water4All scheme.
How will you identify and support your vulnerable customers and improve your customer satisfaction rates? Let us help you identify and communicate with customers that may require additional assistance and proactively provide them with personalised support and reassurance. We’re here to help. Get in touch to find out more.