Energy regulator Ofgem is introducing new protections aimed at helping customers who struggle to pay their energy bills.
From 15 December, Ofgem is requiring energy suppliers to offer emergency credit to households that cannot top up prepayment meters, while those in debt will be put on “realistic and sustainable” repayment plans.
Customers in vulnerable circumstances will also be offered extra prepayment credit while working out alternative arrangements to pay. This could be because they temporarily cannot afford to top up or get to their local shop because of a mobility issue or due to self-isolation.
Philippa Pickford, director of retail at Ofgem, said: “Suppliers have stepped up to the challenge of supporting their customers during the Covid-19 crisis, especially those in vulnerable situations.
“The extra protections we have announced today will help ensure they get some breathing space this winter.”
Joanna Elson, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline and Business Debtline, said: “No one should face a choice between heating or eating, and Ofgem’s new protections will help reduce this risk at time when households are struggling through the impact of Covid-19.
“I am encouraged to see that the regulator is improving support for customers already struggling by requiring all suppliers to offer customers in debt realistic repayment plans based on what they can afford to pay.”
The regulator also wants to make sure energy suppliers put appropriate credit management plans in place, including making proactive contact with customers and setting repayment rates based on ability to pay.
In March this year, suppliers agreed voluntarily to support vulnerable customers through Covid-19, including those on prepayment meters facing difficulties in topping up.
Ofcom’s measures will be a key topic discussed at the Utilities & Telecoms Conference, sponsored by Just, which forms part of the Collections & Vulnerability Summit, sponsored by Experian, in November.