On 25 February 2016, Ofcom published its initial conclusions following the review of digital communications. In brief:
- BT must open up its network, so competitors can connect fibre to homes and offices.
- Openreach must be reformed to better serve UK consumers and businesses.
- Quality of service for all customers must improve, with automatic compensation where things go wrong.
Ofcom will work with the Government to deliver a new universal right to fast, affordable broadband for every household and business in the UK.
The UK Regulators’ Network has today launched an advisory leaflet to help ensure vulnerable consumers get the help they need to access essential services.
Produced through a collaborative effort between Ofgem, Ofcom, Ofwat, the ORR and the CAA, the leaflet highlights a range of free support services offered by utility, telecommunications and public transport providers.
The UKRN website gives details of how to get braille, audio and large print versions of the leaflet.
Consumer groups should take a look at chapter 7 of Ofwat’s Water 2020 consultation – which focuses on customer engagement. This section sets out how Customer Challenge Groups should contribute to the PR19 price setting process. Submissions should be sent to Ofwat by 10 February 2016.
Ofgem’s consultation on proposals to improve outcomes for prepayment customers ends 25 February 2016.
The proposals are designed to:
- help PPM customers to access more competitive tariffs
- address the costs consumers can face, ensuring these do not fall disproportionately on those least able to afford them, and
- ensure that PPM customers are treated fairly by their energy providers.
On 17 December 2015, Ofgem published its final proposals for the Priority Services Register, considered integral to its consumer vulnerability strategy. The aim is to ensure that existing services relating to safety, access and communication in the energy market meet the needs of consumers in vulnerable situations.
Priority Services Register Review – Final Proposals
The consultation closes on 18 February 2016.
Citizens Advice has published new research on energy tariff options for consumers in vulnerable situations which aims to provide researchers, policy makers and energy market stakeholders with a better understanding of the possible options to ensure that disengaged vulnerable consumers are not penalised by higher tariffs. The research was carried out by the Centre for Sustainable Energy. Read more here.
Previous analysis by Ofgem indicates that poorer consumers could be losing out more than other disadvantaged social groups by not switching energy supplier – the number of poorer ‘sticky’ customers (those who are inactive in the energy market) is 10% higher than average amongst these groups. Based on average savings, consumers on non-fixed tariffs could have saved between £158 and £234 a year (2012-2014) had they switched. So Citizens Advice commissioned this research to investigate options to ensure that vulnerable sticky consumers have access to affordable energy.
Dr Toby Bridgeman, researcher at CSE, led the study. He said: “The research shows that there are several straightforward options that could be introduced to significantly reduce the fuel bills of millions of vulnerable consumers who are currently disadvantaged by the energy market, paying over the odds for their fuel. It would be fantastic if the investigation into the energy market being conducted by the Competition and Markets Authority were to recognise and support some of the recommendations in this report.”
On 15th April 2015 ESAN, Citizens Advice and Money Advice Trust joined forces to host a conference on practical steps towards effective implementation of vulnerability strategies. Over 70 delegates from firms, regulators and voluntary organisations across financial services, energy, water and communications attended.
The theme of the day was practical and designed to be helpful to firms rather than concentrating too much on theory and definitions. Many common themes that relate to all sectors emerged – around the multi-dimensional nature of vulnerability, how a risk-factor approach rather than categorisation can help, the importance of staff correctly picking up on triggers at the first point of contact, staff training, and maintaining excellent links with advice and voluntary sector groups were all key issues. Three firms presented case studies on their experiences of developing ways of treating customers in vulnerable circumstances better. FCA, Ofcom, Ofwat and Ofgem all outlined their developing plans in this area.
A background paper on the relevant issues can be found here:
Tackling Consumer Vulnerability Briefing Paper
Presentations can be found here:
Linda Lennard CCES ESAN Consumer Vulnerability presentation
Martin Coppack FCA ESAN Consumer Vulnerability Presentation
Garreth Cameron ICO – ESAN vulnerability presentation
Money Advice Trust ESAN vulnerability presentation
Wessex Water ESAN vulnerability presentation
Steve Crabb British Gas ESAN vulnerability presentation
Citizens Advice have carried out a benchmarking study into British Standard for inclusive service provision (BS 18477). Find the full report, titled Treating consumers fairly, here.
To accelerate the rate of uptake of the Standard and support companies’ endeavours to become more inclusive, Citizens Advice (Consumer Futures) commissioned independent research consultancy, Opinium Research LLP to conduct a benchmarking study of three organisations that are directly or closely linked to Citizens Advice and provide free help concerning advice and redress for energy consumers:
- the Citizens Advice consumer service (the consumer service)
- the Ombudsman Service: Energy
- the Extra Help Unit.
All three organisations operate towards the end of a consumer journey – they deal with the consequences of decisions (or indecisions) of other organisations or companies.
We believe that all companies’ key aims – particularly those companies providing essential goods and services – should include the provision of fair and flexible services to their consumers. We consider that the time has arrived for a transparent cultural shift whereby organisations:
- reframe their perspective
- change the way they think about consumers and their business
- build ‘long-term relationships’ with consumers; ‘earning their trust and then their business’, to become ‘social leaders’.
A more inclusive approach would benefit all consumers. It could particularly benefit those experiencing vulnerability, as well as improving organisations’ own brand, reputation and employee confidence and satisfaction. In turn, this would benefit society and the wider economy.
A demonstrable organisation-wide commitment to providing services that are fair and accessible to all underpinned all the examples of good practice. The experiences of these organisations suggest that developing a broad, flexible understanding of vulnerability and its impact on the consumer is the critical first step in becoming a fair, inclusive and accessible organisation.
But before an organisation can consider how it should respond to vulnerability, it must first ensure its staff can identify it. For the three participating organisations, training played a crucial role in ensuring that staff:
- can identify or elicit evidence of vulnerability and
- possess the necessary “soft” skills for dealing with consumers in such circumstances.
More than a million pensioners are still living in poverty, partly due to their failure to claim benefits, the charity Age UK has claimed. In a new report, it said 1.6m pensioners in the UK are living below the poverty line, and are “floundering” on low incomes.
It conceded that the numbers living in poverty had fallen since 2000, but said progress had now stalled.
The report, called How We Can End Pensioner Poverty, said that many pensioners “had been walking a tightrope in recent years,” as food and utility bills have risen.
But the biggest cause of poverty was that people are missing out on £5.5bn worth of public support.
The report found that:
- 1.6m pensioners are missing out on Pension Credit, worth £33 a week
- 2.2m pensioners are missing out on Council Tax Benefit, worth an average £728 a year
- 390,000 pensioners could have claimed Housing Benefit, worth £48 a week
Age UK said that many people do not know that they are entitled to benefits; others are too proud or embarrassed to claim.
Ofgem is reviewing its work on priority services.
Consultation closes 22nd September 2014. Read more here.
Gas and electricity are essential services. Providing extra services to people who need them to access the market and stay safe remain critically important. This consultation seeks views on proposals that require suppliers, electricity distribution network operators and gas distribution networks to:
•provide additional non-financial services to energy consumers who are more likely than a typical consumer to experience problems with communication, safety and supply;
•take reasonable steps to identify people who would benefit from these services;
•share consumer information with each other and other utility companies, using vulnerability indicators agreed between them;
•raise awareness of services, including developing a single cross-industry brand; and
•conduct annual independent audits of their performance and publish findings yearly