How are energy companies supporting customers?
With the rising cost of energy prices affecting millions of people, the online magazine Disability Horizons investigated how some of the main energy companies are proposing to support their customers during this crisis, particularly those who have complex needs.
Created in 2009, OVO was set up to offer competitive prices, sustainable energy and easy-to-use services. Since then, it has grown to sign up five million members across its brands. In 2020, OVO bought the energy company SSE and now supports SSE customers, too.
On Thursday 1st September, OVO announced a £50 million customer support package to help people in need this winter. It will be given to customers who are struggling as a result of rising energy prices from the 1st of October and will include:
- A payment holiday for debt repayment for all prepayment meter customers so that money goes directly towards heating, not paying back debt this winter.
- 200% increase in emergency top-up credit for customers on prepayment meters and continued commitment to never disconnect a customer.
- Free energy-saving products for customers’ homes, such as smart thermostats and electric throws – prioritised for those most in need.
- Free boiler services worth £90 and a 20% discount for A-rated boilers to ensure boilers are working as efficiently as possible and to help prevent energy waste in the home.
- Dedicated support for our customers in the most financial difficulty from a specialist team, including support for those in financial difficulty for the first time.
OVO also has a new partnership with the Trussell Trust to support food banks to meet increased needs this winter and help people facing hardship access practical support. It will also be continuing its partnership with StepChange to support people facing financial difficulty.
OVO has also set out a 10 Point Plan to address the energy crisis, which you can view on its website.
Set up in 2016, Octopus Energy has around three million customers worldwide and its good customer service has earned the energy company Which?’s Recommended Provider of the Year for five years in a row.
When the energy crisis began a few months ago, Octopus set up Octo Assist, an assistance fund that gives direct support to customers struggling the most with higher bills in the crisis. When the October price cap rise was announced by Ofgem, the fund doubled from £7.5 million to £15 million.
Customers can get help by filling in a Financial Assistance form and answering a few simple questions about their situation. Octopus can then offer several support options based on a customer’s circumstances and needs, including:
- Access to existing schemes, monetary credits from the fund, or personalised account support (e.g. return of credit, payment holidays).
- The lending of infrared cameras to customers to find leaks and draughts around their homes to avoid wasting energy.
- Energy-efficient electric blankets to customers who need them most – particularly for people with mobility issues.
- At-home energy consultations for ‘vulnerable’ customers. Octopus is currently visiting customers to help identify support and action that can help reduce bills, spot affordable and simple ways to improve home efficiency and signpost customers struggling to pay for the schemes. There will be a particular focus on customers with a medical dependency on power and/or heat.
Octopus is currently partnering with Mencap to offer information and advice on the cost of living for people with a learning disability.
Scottish Power has around five million customers. First set up as a nationalised company in 1990, it was owned by the British government – until it was privatised a year later. Based in Glasgow, it’s been a mainstay of the UK energy market ever since.
Scottish Power has revealed to Disability Horizons the support it will provide all customers throughout this energy crisis. It includes:
- Providing alternative payment options and tariffs for different customer circumstances and flexible repayment schemes for those who’ve built up debt.
- Doubling the emergency credit available to £10 for customers and offering a voucher scheme for prepayment meter customers.
- Working with partner organisations, such as food banks, to provide prepayment customers in financial hardship with meter credit that doesn’t need to be repaid.
- Offering energy efficiency advice, benefit entitlement checks, replacement white good appliances and urgent heating repairs or replacements.
Scottish Power is setting up a dedicated ‘affordability team’ with specially trained customer service agents and is working closely with third-party organisations, such as Citizens Advice and StepChange, to help provide specialist debt advice.
Scottish Power also has an established team of Community Liaison Officers, who attend in-person visits wherever necessary to help offer advice and support to customers living with disabilities.
The oldest and the biggest energy supplier in the UK, British Gas, has more than five million gas customers and six million electricity customers. It’s only been a private company since the 1990s (owned by Centrica), but its history goes back 200 years.
British Gas has announced that it will donate 10% of all profits to the British Gas Energy Support Fund – an independent charity that delivers advice and support services for all UK energy consumers – to provide grants to customers for the duration of the energy crisis.
These are expected to average £750 per household and go to thousands of customers most in need.
So far, it has donated £18 million to the British Gas Energy Support Fund. It also gives £6 million annually to the British Gas Energy Trust for all consumers and has made an additional £2 million investment through the British Gas Energy Trust to fund another 20 money advice centres.
EDF Energy has more than five million customers in the UK. It was started in 2003 as a combination of a few different suppliers. As well as supplying gas and electricity to ordinary homes, EDF builds wind farms and runs the UK’s eight nuclear power plants.
On 23rd August, EDF Energy announced new support measures, specifically created to help those most in need.
EDF is contacting more than 100,000 of its most ‘vulnerable’ customers to outline the support packages available. These include:
- Using smart prepayment meters that allow customers to top up energy from anywhere and track usage.
- Helping smart meter customers monitor their energy usage more closely with its free Energy Hub, a platform that can give real-time insights into energy usage and show customers how savings can be made.
- Advising those with existing debt who are not able to repay the costs through its Fresh Start campaign.
This comes on top of help announced earlier this year that saw the energy provider double customer support to £10 million. In addition to this, £20 million of funding was brought forward to insulate homes across the UK and customers were helped to identify £3.6million of additional financial aid they were entitled to, with the help of partner Income Max.
E.ON has just under four million customers. As well as supplying energy to customers, it also invests in generating energy, such as biomass and wind farms.
At present, E.ON has not announced any specific support packages to help customers with the rising costs of energy. However, the company does still provide ongoing support to people struggling financially.
Customers can call the E.ON advisory team to talk through any financial issues they may have. They’ll need to tell the operator if:
- Their circumstances have changed
- They need more time to pay
- They or someone in your house is elderly or has a disability or long-term illness.
Once the advisor understands the situation, they’ll try and find a way to help that’s tailored to their circumstances. E.ON can then:
- Work with them to set up a payment plan that takes into account their situation and ability to pay. If they stop paying, E.ON will contact the customer to see how it can help. This can now include the option to pay a final bill by fixed monthly Direct Debit.
- Check if they can get help from the Government’s Fuel Direct scheme if they’re on benefits and collect a weekly amount directly from their benefits pay.
- Make their budgeting easier by fitting a smart meter and switching them to Smart Pay As You Go. They can top up their meter in advance with an amount they choose. E.ON will only fit a smart meter if it can in their area and where it’s safe and practical for the customer to use one. If a smart meter is not an option for them E.ON will also check if a prepayment meter would be more suitable.
- Provide advice to help you save energy and money.
There is also the E.ON Energy Fund, which has been set up to help the most ‘vulnerable’ existing or previous customers of E.ON Energy.
The Fund can help pay current or final E.ON energy bill arrears to customers living in England, Scotland or Wales. It can also help E.ON customers by providing replacement inefficient household items, such as cookers, fridges, fridge-freezers and washing machines, and also help to replace gas boilers.
Other energy companies
We understand there are many more energy suppliers across the UK, such as Bulb, Avro Energy, Igloo Energy, Powershop, Sainsbury’s Energy, So Energy, Utilto and many more.
If you’re with one of these or any other energy provider and have concerns about paying your energy bill, we suggest you contact your supplier and it is likely you can access advice and support.
By Disability Horizons