The energy industry and the government have agreed measures to protect the domestic energy supply of those in need during the Covid-19 disruption.
Up to 4 million customers with pre-payment meters who may not be able to add credit can speak to their supplier about options to keep them supplied. This could include nominating a third party for credit top ups, having a discretionary fund added to their credit, or being sent a pre-loaded top up card so that their supply is not interrupted. Customers that are unable to top up their pre-payment meter are advised to contact their supplier immediately to discuss how they can be kept on supply. Ofgem recommends consumers leave the meter box unlocked if they need someone else to top up the meter. Smart meter customers should be able to top-up remotely, such as by phone, mobile application or online.
Any energy customer in financial distress will be supported by their supplier. This could include debt repayments and bill payments being reassessed, reduced or paused where necessary.
Disconnection of credit meters will be completely suspended.
The measures set out and agreed will be implemented immediately by energy suppliers to alleviate pressure on energy customers.
David Smith, chief executive of Energy Networks Association, said: “If you have a power cut then call 105 or visit powercut105.com, and call 0800 111 999 immediately if you smell gas. If you are self-isolating or have symptoms of the Coronavirus let the call handler know. We’ll still come and help you, just take more precautions to keep you and our colleagues safe.
“These are unprecedented times but the energy industry is working hard to keep gas and electricity flowing, look after our vulnerable customers and keep customers and staff safe. The UK’s electricity and gas network is one of the most reliable in the world and over 36,000 employees are working flat out to continue to provide a safe and reliable supply of energy during this time.”
He added, “As you would expect, we’ve taken steps to make sure that we keep your energy flowing: minimising access to our control rooms, splitting teams to reduce risk of cross-infection and by preparing to bring in additionally trained colleagues if we need them.
“We’ll still offer additional tailored services and guidance to those who may need additional support, including if you’re self-isolating. And, we’ll do this while following government guidance on hygiene and social distancing.”
He warned, “If government advice changes, you may see a difference in how we work. For instance, we may need to postpone activity that is not critical to keeping your energy flowing, and at times it may take us slightly longer to answer your call. But we will still be there for you when you need us.”
Audrey Gallacher, chief executive of Energy UK, said, “As providers of essential services and critical infrastructure, the energy industry has well-practised contingency plans in order to ensure the delivery of services and is working closely with the government on a daily basis to ensure there is no disruption to the generation and supply of energy to customers during these extraordinary circumstances.
“The sector is very conscious of the potential consequences for customers confined to their homes for prolonged periods and in particular those customers in vulnerable circumstances or on prepayment meters who may need additional help. Suppliers will be doing all they can to identify such customers and provide additional support wherever possible.”
Ofgem will continue to ensure suppliers meet their regulatory obligations. However the government also recognises this will be a challenging time for many supply businesses.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said, “Energy suppliers need to play their part by communicating clearly and supporting their customers as much as possible. Keeping people on supply, making sure they have warm homes and don’t face additional financial or other stresses about their energy supply will be essential.
“Suppliers will need to put in place support measures for people on prepayment meters, people and families who need to self-isolate or take steps to reduce social contact, and people who may otherwise be in vulnerable situations.”