Five UK energy suppliers have severe weaknesses in how they handle of vulnerable customers, according to the latest industry report from Ofgem.
The market watchdog named Good Energy, Outfox, So Energy, TruEnergy, and Utilita as the five suppliers with the most issues.
Ofgem assessed how 17 suppliers across the energy sector treated customers in a vulnerable situation.
This included how energy firms identified customers in a vulnerable situation, and if they are adding them to the ‘Priority Services Register’, which offers additional support to customers in need.
It also checked whether suppliers were offering free gas safety checks available to eligible customers, while ensuring vulnerable customers on prepayment meters are identified and supported.
The regulator further checked with energy firms were providing useful information appropriate to customer needs.
It established that all suppliers need to make improvements.
Alongside the suppliers with ‘severe weaknesses’, Ofgem found ‘moderate weaknesses’ in five other suppliers – E (Gas & Electricity), Ecotricity, Green Energy UK, Octopus and Shell.
|Good Energy, Outfox, SO Energy, TruEnergy, and Utilita||Severe weaknesses|
|E (Gas & Electricity), Ecotricity, Green Energy UK, Octopus and Shell||Moderate weaknesses|
|British Gas, Bulb, EDF, E.ON, Ovo, Scottish Power and Utility Warehouse||Minor weaknesses|
The group found ‘minor weaknesses ‘were found in seven other suppliers, including British Gas, Bulb, EDF, E.ON, Ovo, Scottish Power and Utility Warehouse.
Some good practice was established part of the review, with a handful of firms offering ‘cash grants towards energy bills’ for customers, and many energy companies signing up to Energy UK’s vulnerability commitments.
Neil Lawrence, director of retail at Ofgem, said: “We welcome the cooperation from suppliers and action taken so far, and, although we are seeing some very good practice in parts of the industry, we can see there is still much more to be done.
“My message to suppliers today is simple- be proactive. Help your customers to know what support is available, and then deliver it.”
Suppliers hit back at Ofgem criticisms
Ofgem has sought to clean up the energy market and make suppliers more stringent following the collapse of 30 firms over the past 15 months – with the watchdog facing criticism for failing to sufficiently regulate the market.
It has brought in fit and proper person rules, financial stress tests, quarterly price caps and regular industry reviews.
The regulator previously looked into whether firms were overcharging customers on direct debits, and if they were offering enough customer support for financially at-risk customers.
Utilita pushed back at Ofgem’s findings, with a spokesperson telling City A.M. it failed to reflect the progress the firm was making in improving its support for customers.
A spokesperson said: “We are confident that our customers are happy with the support we provide Ofgem’s report does not represent where we are as a business today, nor does it acknowledge the significant progress we have made – and are making – since its initial assessment in early summer.
“As such, we look forward to seeing Ofgem’s updated report in the near future. Vulnerable customers continue to be at the heart of our service offering, and we will continue to make our planned improvements throughout the winter.”
So Energy was also unhappy with the watchdog’s latest findings.
Co-founder Simon Oscroft said: “So Energy takes our responsibilities to vulnerable customers extremely seriously. Over the course of the last months and weeks, we have provided Ofgem with extensive additional information related to this review and we are disappointed that Ofgem has proceeded on the basis of incomplete information, and in a manner that may now cause vulnerable customers unnecessary concern.
“For the avoidance of doubt, So Energy has never switched a smart meter equipped customer from credit to prepay without their knowledge and consent, and has an approach to customer vulnerability that is in line with our caring and honest values.”
The three other suppliers were severe issues were approached for comment.