More energy customers will be eligible for help under Priority Services Register scheme, including customers with mental health problems or injuries, Ofgem announced this week.
The Priority Services Register helps vulnerable customers get free services from network operators and suppliers to help them manage their energy. These include:
- customers being given a password so that they can safely identify representatives who visit their house
- readings for customers who struggle to read their meter
- advance notice of power cuts and information on any help available during emergencies
The register was previously only open to consumers who are disabled, chronically sick, or of pensionable age.
Ofgem is broadening the eligibility criteria for the register from January, 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.
Around 3.6 million electricity and 3 million gas customers (13% of customers for both fuels) are signed up to suppliers’ Priority Services Register. Ofgem estimated that hundreds of thousands more customers would be able to benefit from the service after the new changes.
Rachel Fletcher, Ofgem’s senior partner for 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.”
Suppliers will also be obliged to take all reasonable steps to identify vulnerable customers and offer them the free services. This means picking up on signs of vulnerability from their day-to-day interactions with customers. Previous research from Ofgem shows that only 24 per cent of consumers are aware the Priority Services Register exists.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, welcomed the changes. He said: “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.”
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