Energy Priority Services Register changes
More energy customers in vulnerable situations will get extra help, under changes to the Priority Services Register announced by Ofgem this week.
At present, around 3.6 million electricity and 3 million gas customers (13% of customers for both fuels) are signed up to suppliers’ Priority Services Registers. You qualify if you have disabilities, chronic illnesses or are of pensionable age.
Ofgem is broadening the eligibility criteria for the register from January 2017 to include any energy customers in vulnerable situations who need it – including those whose situation is temporary. This could include customers with mental health issues which prevent them from understanding their bill or who have injuries which stop them topping up their pre-payment meter.
The changes will enable hundreds of thousands more customers who are most in need to benefit from the services.
Suppliers will also be obliged to take all reasonable steps to identify these customers and offer them the free services. This means picking up on signs of vulnerability from their day-to-day interactions with customers. This is vital as previous research from Ofgem shows that only 24 per cent of consumers are aware this support exists - partly because customers have to ask for it.
What are the benefits of being on the Priority Services Register?
If you are listed on an energy company's Priority Services Register, you can get free, vital services from network operators and suppliers to help you manage your energy.
This provides you with free extra services and may help protect you from disconnection if you struggle to pay your energy bills if your supplier has signed up to the Energy UK Safety Net scheme.
Priority Services Register services might include:
Advance notice of planned power cuts for customers who depend on their energy supply for medical reasons
Priority in an emergency (this could include providing alternative heating and cooking facilities in the event of supply disconnection)
Password protection scheme to provide reassurance that callers, for example meter readers, are genuine
Bill nominee scheme – customers can ask their supplier to send their bill to anybody (for example a family member or carer) who has agreed to receive it
Prepayment meters – if a customer is unable reach their prepayment meter they can asked for it to be moved
Quarterly meter reading services (if no person occupying the premises is able to read the meter)
Accessible information – suppliers can provide customers with account and bill information in an accessible format, e.g. with larger print or Braille
Annual gas appliance safety checks for homeowners. (If you do not own your own home, your landlord is responsible for ensuring that any gas appliances, fittings and flues are safe)
Suppliers are also prohibited from disconnecting premises occupied by a customer eligible for the Priority Services Register during the winter months (1 October - 31 March).
Rachel Fletcher, Senior Partner, Ofgem Consumers and Competition, said:
“Energy is an essential service. We want to see more consumers in vulnerable situations protected. That’s why we’re working with suppliers to make changes to Priority Services so many more consumers get the tailored help that they need.”
Citizens Advice comment
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said:
“A sudden change in circumstances can leave people needing extra support to manage their gas and electricity.
“Health problems or being injured can alter someone’s ability to carry out routine tasks, such as topping up a meter or paying bills.
“The welcome reforms announced by Ofgem today should make things easier for people whose circumstances have changed dramatically. More people in vulnerable situations will now be able to get the adjustments they need, such as getting a meter moved for free or being prioritised for reconnection when their supply goes down.
“It is important that suppliers now put these reforms into practice by identifying all vulnerable consumers and providing them with the support they need through the Priority Services Register.”
Turn2us No Cold Homes Campaign 2016
Previous Turn2us research on energy costs found that one in two low income households were struggling to afford their energy costs, despite being in work, and over a fifth (21%) experienced stress and other mental health problems.
We will be launching our annual No Cold Homes campaign this December. Last year the campaign attracted broad attention and we helped raise awareness of the extent to which people struggle with energy costs as well as the support available.
What help is available if you are struggling with energy costs?
If you are struggling to pay your energy or water bills, we have several resources that give you information on the various schemes and grants that may be available to help towards the cost of energy.
You can use our Benefits Calculator to check your entitlement to benefits and our Grants Search to see if you are eligible for help from a charitable fund, based on your personal circumstances and needs.