THOUSANDS of hard-up energy customers are due compensation after the regulator found they weren’t offered extra support.
Utilita is being forced to pay over 25,000 customers £830,000 in compensation.
Ofgem has directed the supplier to pay out after it discovered that hard-up households weren’t being given adequate additional support as the cost of living crisis bites.
The customers affected will receive £20 each as a direct credit to their prepayment gas or electricity meters.
Utilita has 775,792 electricity customers and 648,098 gas customers – the majority of which are on costly prepayment meters.
Around four million households are on these costly prepayment meters and half of those are on old-style traditional prepayment meters, which leave many at risk of self-disconnection if they can’t afford to top up.
Ofgem sets rules which ensure that customers who can’t afford to top up are offered support when they contact their supplier.
Energy suppliers have a duty to offer a wide variety of support for hard-up customers including:
- Emergency credit if your meter runs low or runs out.
- “Friendly hours” credit if top-up points are closed and your meter is running low. You can access this overnight, at weekends and on public holidays.
- Extra support credit if you are in a vulnerable situation and have few options to pay.
- Extra support credit while you work out ways to pay if you are in a vulnerable situation. For example, if you cannot leave your home because of the pandemic.
And while you need to repay the credit from your supplier when you next top up – customers have a right to ask their supplier to agree to a repayment plan.
Suppliers have a duty to work with you to agree on payment plans you can afford.
But after Ofgem reviewed Utilita scripts of employees talking to customers, training materials, procedures, policies and recorded calls with customers, it found that thousands of customers weren’t offered enough support.
The regulator said the supplier was not taking individual circumstances into consideration when deciding whether or not to provide additional support credits needed for customers topping up prepayment meters.
Utilita has agreed to pay compensation to affected customers but it has also confirmed that it will make a voluntary contribution worth £321,740 to the Energy Redress Fund.
The Fund supports energy customers in vulnerable situations as well as invests in innovation projects and carbon emission reductions.
Cathryn Scott, Ofgem’s director for enforcement and emerging issues, said: “As the energy regulator, protecting consumers is our top priority, and we have strong expectations that energy suppliers must take the individual circumstances of consumers, particularly those who are in vulnerable situations, into consideration.
“Prepayment meters are currently relied on by around four million UK households, and the current cost of living issue is placing pressure on many households, which in turn is causing more people to require additional support credits to top-up for their prepayment meters.
“This action should serve as a reminder to other suppliers to go further to ensure vulnerable groups are getting the support they need, particularly during the colder winter months.”
The Sun has contacted Utilita to confirm how customers will know if they’re eligible for compensation.
A typical prepayment meter customer ends up paying nearly £60 more per year compared to those who pay for their energy by direct debit.
The new Energy Price Guarantee (EPG) capped the typical bill for households that pay their energy bills by direct debit at £2,500.
But, prepayment meter customers pay more and the typical bill under the cap amounts to £2,559 a year.
Prepayment meter customers are entitled to the £400 energy bill discount but millions on traditional meters need to urgently check and redeem their voucher to ensure they don’t miss out.
Around 41% of these prepayment meter vouchers have still not yet been redeemed and applied to meters, according to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
What help is available for those with prepayment meters?
Energy grants – up to £1,500
There are plenty of energy grants and schemes open to help you out if you’re struggling.
British Gas has confirmed it’ll pay its most vulnerable customers grants worth £750 to help with sky-high bills.
And the British Gas Energy Trust pays hard-up households up to £1,500 – and it doesn’t matter if they’re not a British Gas customer.
Ask your supplier what’s on offer and how to apply, or check here:
- British Gas Energy Trust
- Bulb energy fund
- EDF’s energy customer support fund
- E.on’s energy fund
- Octopus Energy Octo Assist fund
- Ovo’s debt and energy assistance
- Scottish Power’s hardship fund
There’s also a one-off fuel voucher from your energy supplier if you’re on a prepayment meter.
We’ve already listed the detailed eligibility criteria for each scheme.
Energy bill discount – up to £400
Millions of households started receiving a £400 energy bill discount from October 1.
The payment is dished out by your energy supplier and split across six discounts between October and March next year.
Households received a £66 energy bill discount in October and November and a discount worth £67 in December.
Further discounts worth £67 are due in January, February and March.
We’ve listed how the leading energy suppliers will pay households.
If you’re on a credit meter or smart prepayment meter the discount will come off your bills or be credited to your account automatically.
Those on traditional prepayment meters receive the discount through a voucher which needs to be redeemed at your local top-up point.
Check with your supplier to confirm how you’ll receive the cash.
Fuel vouchers – up to £50
If you’re on a prepayment meter you might be able to get a one-off voucher to top up.
The fuel voucher scheme comes via the Fuel Bank Foundation charity, and it’s offered through a range of organisations, like food banks and Citizens Advice.
The best place to start to find somewhere which can offer you a fuel voucher is by asking your local council – you can find yours via gov.uk by searching your postcode.
The voucher should help you cover around two weeks’ worth of electricity use.
Some energy companies may also issue their own vouchers, so ask your supplier directly.
Emergency credit – £10
Energy companies usually offer emergency credit, though you will have to pay this back.
How much you get and how it’s applied will depend on who your supplier is.
It might be added to your meter when you fall below a certain amount or you might have to ask for it.
You might get extra if you are vulnerable, for example, if you have a health condition or are over state pension age.
You’ll have to repay the cash next time you top up, but you can speak to your supplier about how much you’ll pay back and over what time.
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