WPD pays £14.9m in redress for failing vulnerable customers

Western Power Distribution (WPD) has agreed to pay out £14.9 million into Ofgem’s voluntary redress fund following a series of failings regarding its priority services register (PSR).

Network companies are required to provide additional services to registered customers such as prompt information and advice during unplanned power cuts, as well as alternative accommodation should they need it.

A two-year investigation into the network operator found it failed to promptly notify and update some of its 1.7 million PSR customers who were affected by power cuts about when supplies would be restored and what assistance was available.

Furthermore, WPD failed to promptly provide specific information on how to prepare for power cuts for the majority of its newly added PSR customers, with some waiting up to a year after they signed up for the information to be provided.

Ofgem said this issue, which occurred over a period of five years, made it harder for these PSR customers to plan ahead to ensure their needs were met and access the available assistance.

Additionally, the regulator found that the network operator failed to ensure all staff visiting the homes of customers, including those in vulnerable circumstances, had sufficient background checks, in particular DBS checks.

WPD has since acted to address these areas of concern and has changed its policies and procedures.

Following the investigation, Ofgem said it intends to impose a £1 financial penalty on each of WPD’s four licence areas. WPD will also pay £3.7 million across each of the areas, totalling £14.9 million, into Ofgem’s voluntary redress fund.

Responding to the outcome, a WPD spokesperson said the company was “disappointed” that following initial engagement Ofgem chose to pursue enforcement action and not enable the issues to be addressed via “constructive engagement”.

They added: “The health and safety of our customers is of paramount importance and WPD offers a huge programme of support for its customers in vulnerable situations.

“We were therefore shocked when we discovered Ofgem considered there were shortcomings with our service and we have engaged thoroughly and promptly at all times with Ofgem to resolve those concerns.

“We are very sorry for any occasions when our services fell below Ofgem’s requirements. While the investigation only covered WPD, we believe that at the core of Ofgem’s concerns were licence interpretation issues that impacted the whole sector. As soon as we became aware of Ofgem’s requirements we took decisive action to address the issues.”

Cathryn Scott, director of enforcement and emerging issues at Ofgem, said: “WPD did not meet all of its obligations to provide additional support to some of its most vulnerable customers to safeguard their well-being. In our view it also took too long to put this right. This is totally unacceptable.

“Our enforcement against the company sends a strong message that when companies fail to provide the required services to their priority services register customers, Ofgem will take action.”