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Energy firms need to step up help for vulnerable customers, says report | Business News

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Improved support is urgently needed for vulnerable energy customers, according to an independent report.

An industry-backed inquiry found “huge variations” in the way power suppliers dealt with the elderly and disabled.

The Commission for Customers in Vulnerable Circumstances has made a series of proposals aimed at driving up standards, including systematic training for all frontline staff to help them identify and offer support to households in need.

Firms should also make sure customers can contact them by phone, for free, and by letter, it said.

In addition, the commission, launched last year by industry body Energy UK and independently chaired by former Labour minister Lord Whitty, called for the introduction of a code of conduct for suppliers.

Healthcare worker tie shoe laces of disabled senior man
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Many disabled people have no choice but to use more energy, say campaigners. File pic

Lord Whitty said the differences in the way energy suppliers deal with vulnerable customers ranged from “really good practice to examples of seriously insensitive treatment that fall far short of acceptable”.

He said: “Nobody likes to think of themselves as ‘vulnerable’ but any one of us could become vulnerable in a heartbeat.

“A safe, reliable and affordable energy supply is such a fundamental need that it warrants particular focus, especially given the stress and anxiety it can cause when there are problems.

“We also cannot ignore how changes in society are leaving increasing numbers of households in difficulty, often isolated and struggling to afford the essentials.”

Energy UK’s chief executive, Lawrence Slade, said: “Our sector is genuinely committed to going further to improve services for all customers, particularly those in the most vulnerable circumstances, which is why we established this independently-chaired commission and we have already committed to bringing forward a new vulnerability charter, that we’ll be drawing up in coming months, to build on this report and existing voluntary initiatives.”

Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said: “It’s critical that energy customers in vulnerable circumstances get the right support at the right time, and this report rightly highlights a lack of consistency across the sector.”

James Taylor at the disability equality charity Scope, said: “Many disabled people have no choice but to consume more energy because of their condition, often resulting in sky-high energy bills.”

“It’s time that the government, regulators and energy suppliers recognise the needs of disabled people and work together to improve the energy market.”

A Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokesman said: “This government strongly believes that everyone has the right to a reliable and reasonably-priced energy supply, and wants to protect consumers from rip-off deals.

“This is why we are making sure two million low-income households get money off their winter energy bills, as well as protecting 11 million households with our energy price cap.

“We are also giving extra money to pensioners through the winter and are committing £6bn to upgrading the energy efficiency of the homes of the most vulnerable.”

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