NEA welcomes Government and industry joint announcement on protecting domestic customers during COVID-19 outbreak

For immediate release – 19/03/20
Contact: Sarah Wright, Head of Communications, NEA: sarah.wright@nea.org.uk
Out of hours – 07884371913

 

Today the UK Government has announced joint steps with the energy industry to support vulnerable energy customers. Measures include ensuring pre-payment customers can access credit if they are self-isolating and steps to ensure energy debt is minimised. All UK domestic suppliers have also signed a voluntary set of consumer protections which will come into force immediately. Fuel Poverty charity, National Energy Action (NEA), have welcomed the collaborative steps, despite the inevitable challenges getting a consistent level of support to all customers who may be in vulnerable circumstances will present to energy companies. NEA is also calling on the industry, Government and Ofgem to maintain co-ordination in the weeks and months ahead to help more customers reduce their risk of not being able to keep warm and safe in their homes.

Peter Smith, Director of Policy and Research at NEA comments:

“We warmly welcome the Government and energy industry’s focus on tying to ensure everyone can keep warm and safe in their homes.

“NEA and other consumer groups have been increasingly worried about customers who are ill or self-isolating who aren’t able, or can’t afford, to top up their pre-payment meters. In particular, the impossible choices some customers face if they have to compromise Government advise to travel to locations to buy top cards or access credit, despite being ill. This is already a significant issue for those being required to self-isolate but could become even more impossible for many more people depending on the scale and scope of future travel restrictions. We therefore particularly welcome the joint Government and industry focus to do more to support vulnerable customers using prepayment meters while in self-isolation”.

“We hope this gives vulnerable customers the confidence to contact their supplier to see what support could be provided. There will however be inevitable challenges getting a consistent level of support to all customers who may need it, with millions of people across the UK now needing to use much more energy at home. In the short term, we are calling on suppliers to do what they can to prioritise the most vulnerable customers when answering calls, providing discretionary top ups or debt relief.

“There are further additional steps energy companies, Government and Ofgem can take to keep people warm and give them the best chance of getting well. For example, we hope they will consider offering indebted customers more support like offering payment holidays and payment matching schemes which are already common in other sectors. They could also provide further energy rebates or reduce or freeze standing charges to ensure low income consumers that may only top up their pre-payment meters rarely, don’t lose credit before they can access any energy. Steps such as these could be crucial,

“We will be continuing our collaborative work with all these parties to explore these key areas in the coming weeks and months”.

ENDS

 Notes to editors

National Energy Action (NEA) works across England, Wales and Northern Ireland to ensure that everyone in the UK can afford to live in a warm and safe home. We aim to improve access to energy and debt advice, provide training, support energy efficiency policies, local projects and co-ordinate other related services which can help change lives. NEA’s campaigning and policy work seeks to channel the in-house expertise gained from our delivery and research work in order to better inform national policies and policy makers to end fuel poverty across the UK.

The Government’s announcement can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-agrees-measures-with-energy-industry-to-support-vulnerable-people-through-covid-19.

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