Energy Companies Fail Disabled people

A report by energy watchdog Ofgem has uncovered failings within 17 Energy suppliers in their attitude and assistance to Disabled customers, Disability Rights UK reports.

The regulator said the worst examples included, suppliers failing to read the meters of customers who could not do so themselves and customers being unable to contact their energy supplier to top up their meter or to request support credit.

The report focused especially on the use of pre-payment meters and the fact that many Disabled people who have them in their homes are either running out of credit or self-disconnecting due to bills and debt-repayment rates.

Around four million households across the UK are on prepayment meters, according to Ofgem and those using them are often on lower incomes or have historically struggled with debt.

Ofgem’s findings come hot on the heels of a recent report by Citizens Advice which found that energy suppliers were failing to support Disabled people struggling with their payments.

When customers have difficulties with their payments, energy suppliers are required to support them. This usually takes the form of a repayment plan, agreed between the supplier and the customer. However, Citizens Advice found that some suppliers were forcing Disabled customers onto pre-payment meters, to collect arears and stop future debt. Citizens Advice found that this action could force people to self-disconnect, as people were not always able to top up their meters.

All the suppliers that submitted data to Ofgem were told they must improve their practices.

Neil Lawrence Ofgem’s director of retail said: “From eligible customers who are missing out on free gas safety checks through to companies not identifying vulnerable customers to be offered obvious support on the Priority Services Register, this robust review has highlighted that suppliers need to do more to support consumers. We welcome the cooperation from suppliers and action taken so far, and, although we are seeing some very good practice in parts of the industry, we can see there is still much more to be done.”

Policy and Campaigns officer at Disability Rights UK, Dan White said: “This report shows that not only do energy companies regularly fail Disabled consumers, but that pre-payment meters don’t enable Disabled customers to be fully supported or their health and wellbeing to be sufficiently safeguarded. Energy debt should be collected in the usual way through plans to pay arears, no-one should be put in the situation of being forced to disconnect due to lack of money. Pre-payment meters should be phased out and no more customers should be moved on to them.”