Energy UK has today (12 February) launched an independent commission to look at how standards of support can be improved for customers in vulnerable circumstances.
It will consider how different aspects of vulnerability including mental health, financial vulnerability and disability affect a customer’s ability to engage with the energy market.
The commission will also look at how suppliers, government departments and Ofgem contribute to care and support for those in vulnerable situations.
A final report with recommendations will be released towards the end of this year.
Energy UK said the commission was an important next step in its efforts to improve customer service and to ensure suppliers were meeting the needs of all their customers.
John Whitty, a member of the House of Lords has been appointed chair of the commission. He said vulnerability presents a range of challenges for the energy industry and is looking forward to building on the “hard work and progress” made so far by the energy sector.
Lawrence Slade, chief executive of Energy UK, added: “Identifying customers in vulnerable circumstances and providing the appropriate support customers need, and want, is a challenge that is not unique to energy companies.”
He said society needs 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.”
Citizens Advice welcomed the launch of the commission, describing it as a “real opportunity” to ensure vulnerable energy customers receive “a better service and the right level of support.”
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “We’ve long argued that energy companies should do more to support their customers in vulnerable circumstances. All too often, these are customers who are paying over the odds for their energy and are treated poorly by their supplier.
“We look forward to working constructively with the commission and to the development of concrete proposals that will make a meaningful difference to the lives of millions of vulnerable people.”
But challenger provider Octopus Energy said the commission is “not enough” to protect customers of the big six suppliers.
Greg Jackson, chief executive of Octopus Energy, said: “I hope that the vulnerability commission will recognise that all customers can be vulnerable from time to time, and that the only real solution is a competitive approach to pricing, which would be delivered by a relative price cap.”
He said large suppliers should embrace “critical improvements” such as accessible websites, shorter summaries of bills and transparent pricing.
Energy UK said energy companies have proactively increased the support they provide to customers in vulnerable circumstances to ensure greater protection for those most in need.