A new report – ‘Making Progress’ - published today by Consumer Focus, highlights a series of positive steps taken by energy suppliers towards providing a better service for pre-payment meter (PPM) customers. Consumer Focus welcomes the industry’s efforts but is highlighting there is more work still to be done.
Consumer Focus research1 in 2010 indentified a number of problems experienced by users of PPMs, the most significant being that around one in six pre-pay households (up to 1.4m people) cut off their own energy supply. Almost half housed someone with an illness or disability, and two in five included children under 16. At that time Consumer Focus outlined five key principles which suppliers must meetto provide a good level of service and support to pre-payment meter customers. 2
In the report published today Consumer Focus has found that all suppliers have taken steps to provide better support for consumers using PPMs. Suppliers have extended the ‘friendly non-disconnect’ periods so that wherever technologically possible customers won’t be cut-off if they run out of credit at night, over the weekend, or over the Christmas and New Year bank holidays.
There have also been improvements in taking customers’ ability to pay into account in setting debt repayments. In 2010 almost a third of consumers in debt (30 per cent) said they weren’t consulted about whether the repayment rate was affordable. Average debt repayment rates for PPM customers are now down by 25 per cent for electricity and 16 per cent for gas.3
Dhara Vyas, energy expert at Consumer Focus, said:
‘Our previous research found over a million people had to cut off their own energy supply just to make ends meet. With so many vulnerable and low income families and individuals paying by pre-payment meter, it is good to see energy firms taking positive action to ensure the health and wellbeing of vulnerable pre-payment meter consumers.
‘It is essential that energy firms provide good service and go the extra mile for these customers. We hope suppliers will learn from each other’s best practice, and continue making changes to provide the best possible experience for pre-payment customers.’
There is scope for suppliers to do more for their PPM customers. The watchdog is calling on suppliers to continue making improvements and learn from each other’s best practices.4 In the short term suppliers need to keep adopting the best practice across the market, bring a greater choice of tariffs and options for topping up meters and achieve a better understanding of their PPM customers and their needs. Looking further ahead, the needs of PPM users will need to be fully taken into account as the nationwide smart meter programme changes the energy market for everyone.5
Consumer Focus wants to make consumers more aware of the changes from suppliers and is urging customers to get in touch with their supplier as soon as possible if they have any problems with topping up the credit on their meter.
Pre-payment meter customer contact numbers for major suppliers:
British Gas – 0800 048 0303 (open 24 hours a day 7 days a week)
EDF Energy – 0800 015 1733 (open 8am-8pm, emergency after 8pm call 0800 096 9000)
E.ON – 0345 303 3040 (Prepayment general electricity); 0345 300 8144 (Prepayment general gas)
npower – general customer services 0800 073 3000 (for landlines) 0330 100 3000 (for mobiles) (Mon – Fri 8am to 8 pm and Sat 8am to 6pm)
Scottish Power – 0845 2700 700 (general customer services)
SSE – 0800 048 2391 (electric), 0800 048 2392 (gas), or 0800 980 2481 (PPM Homemoves).
Notes to editors:
- See our press release and Consumer Focus’s 2010 report ‘Cutting Back, Cutting Down, Cutting Off’ for more details.
- Full detail of the five principles is available on the Consumer Focus website. Below is a brief summary:
- Using a comprehensive assessment process to determine if a PPM is appropriate;
- Replacing the meter for free if a change in circumstances mean it is unsuitable;
- Providing emergency ‘friendly credit’ to households if they run out of credit overnight, over weekends or over Christmas or New Year public holidays;
- Providing a package of support to vulnerable PPM customers including tariff advice, energy efficiency and income benefits help
- Improved communication with customers
- Monitoring irregular PPM payments/top-ups to identify households at risk of self-disconnection, offering extra help as appropriate
- Contacting any customer who is off supply for an extended period of time – making a home visit where necessary
- Using a checklist and flagging system, as a minimum, to identify and support vulnerable customers
- Rolling-out specific on-going staff training on how to check an individual’s circumstances, ability to pay, and whether they need additional support as a vulnerable consumer
- Identifying through regular checks whether PPM customers’ circumstances have changed and whether the PPM is still appropriate and suitably accessible
- Providing remote top-up facilities to help customers in emergencies