Customers

Examining how utilities are tackling the key issues of vulnerability and affordability

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Long gone are the days when energy companies merely supplied power, Matthew Vickers believes. Today retailers are providing some of the most sophisticated types of customer service available, which the Energy Ombudsman chief executive describes as akin to social work. Speaking to Utility Week, Vickers explains why we must tread carefully when making comparisons with other industries, his caution around increasing digitsation and his fears about “empathy” becoming the latest corporate buzzword.
Interviews
Digitally excluded households face an energy market premium of up to £485, National Energy Action (NEA) has estimated. The charity revealed the figure to Utility Week in response to a Citizens Advice report which urged the sector to ensure that going forward information and customer support is not solely provided online and that people can still access help and advice in a variety of non-digital formats.
News
Almost 90 per cent of homeowners regard energy efficiency and savings as the most important factor when carrying out home improvements, new research has found. Schneider Electric says its survey of 2,000 consumers highlights a shifting attitude towards home energy efficiency improvements in the wake of the pandemic.
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Engagement with stakeholders and customers has never been more important across utility companies. Business activities and strategies are shaped and impacted by the needs and views of these audiences. But how should water and energy companies be approaching engagement to help deliver their social responsibilities and business plans in a post-Covid environment?
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Energy switching rates reached an all-time high in 2019, with 25% of households making the switch. While this level of engagement is promising, concerns remain over the reliability and speed of switching. The energy companies are already paying out hundreds of thousands of pounds in compensation costs for erroneous transfers and non-compliance to the time frame, so how can they stop these from escalating in the wake of next-working-day switching in 2021?
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There has been considerable talk within the financial service industry around what the new normal will be for payments post-pandemic. Factors include the reduction in the use of cash and cheques, the rise in contactless payments and the move to digital solutions. However, in a world of ever-changing, uncertain incomes, another change we’ll soon see is greater flexibility over bill payments, including within utilities.
Opinion

Latest in Customers

More than 620,000 electricity switches occurred in October, the most so far in 2020 and the highest since April 2019. According to Electralink’s Energy Market Data Hub, 621,000 changes of supplier were recorded in October, 4 per cent more than during the same period last year and 20 per cent more than in September 2020.
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Ofgem has confirmed that missed renewables obligation (RO) payments will be mutualised for the third consecutive year after a number of suppliers failed to meet the deadlines. The energy regulator recently revealed 33 suppliers failed to meet their total obligations by 31 August for buy-out payments and 1 September for RO certificates. As a result there was a combined shortfall of more than £105 million in buy-out funds.
News
There was a combined shortfall of more than £105 million in the renewables obligation (RO) buy-out funds due to suppliers not meeting the relevant deadlines, Ofgem has revealed. The regulator said 33 suppliers failed to meet their total obligations by the deadlines - 31 August for buy-out payments and 1 September for RO certificates.
News
Despite the most recent switching figures showing a declining rate, Ofgem consumer research has found more people are now inclined to change supplier than in the spring.
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The number of prepayment meter customers using emergency credit has increased considerably, a new report has found. Since April Ofgem has been measuring the impacts of Covid-19 social distancing on domestic energy consumption, financial wellbeing and the concerns of energy consumers around managing bills.
News
Fuel Poverty Action is urging the government to bring forward planned consumer protections for the customers of heat networks this winter. In a letter to energy minister Kwasi Kwarteng the charity urges the government to bring forward arrangements for compensation when district heating breaks down and to upgrade networks which repeatedly fail, on an emergency basis.
News
Customers who were re-prompted to change energy tariff following a collective switch (CS) trial by Ofgem were almost twice as likely to do so again, the regulator has found. Ofgem assessed whether the CS interventions as part of a trial held in March and April 2018 had a lasting or sustained impact on tariff switching in the following 17 months.
News
An investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) into misleading claims about eco-friendly products should be broadened to include energy retailers, the chief executive of Good Energy has said. The CMA said its investigation is a response to the growing number of products and services marketed as environmentally friendly, adding that £41 billion was spent on ethical goods and services – almost four times as much as people spent two decades ago.
News
Emma Clancy is only the second chief executive of water watchdog CCW, formerly CCWater, since it was formed in 2005. She talks to Utility Week about the advantage of a fresh perspective and the need to reposition the organisation as "part of the solution as well as pointing out the problem".
Interviews
Schemes such as the warm home discount in energy or social tariffs in water could be used to flag potentially vulnerable customers to different sectors, a new report has recommended. National Energy Action’s ‘Surviving the wilderness’ report focuses on three sectors – energy, water and council tax. It concludes that common approaches to debt management can help customers to know what to expect at all stages of the process, and how to navigate the support options which may be available to them.
News
A firm which provides contact centre services for large suppliers such as Eon has launched a new initiative to re-engage customers who are struggling with debt. The Reach:Out initiative, created by Sigma Financial Group, provides struggling customers with a pathway to better manage their debts by signposting them towards free advice and support.
News
There are “significant” lockdown bill arrears in the energy and water sectors, with consumers owing their suppliers almost £300 million, according to new research. Citizens Advice has released new projections about the level of debt based off its previous polling data which found 3 million adults had fallen behind on at least one of their water bills during the coronavirus pandemic, whilst 2.8 million had missed an energy payment.
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