Energy firms must offer more help on bill payments, Ofgem warns

Woman looking at bill

Woman looking at bill

Most of the UK’s energy suppliers must improve how they help people who are struggling to pay their bills, watchdog Ofgem has said.

Its review found failures in firms being able to identify which customers were having payment difficulties and a lack of help with payment plans.

The government has stepped in to cap a typical household energy bill at £2,500 a year until 2024 but this is still unaffordable for many customers.

This bill rise comes in on 1 October.

Campaigners have warned millions of people will still face fuel poverty this winter, despite Prime Minister Liz Truss’ multi-billion pound plan to ease the impact of higher gas and electricity bills.

A household is considered to be in fuel poverty if it has to spend 10% or more of its income on energy.

If you are struggling to afford your gas and electricity bills, Citizens Advice recommends contacting your supplier directly and offering to come up with a payment plan.

Energy suppliers must offer payment plans that customers can afford, under Ofgem rules. In addition, those on pre-payment meters who do not have the money to top them up can ask for emergency credit.

Ofgem chief executive Jonathan Brearley said its review found some suppliers had fallen short of the standards expected by the watchdog and urged them to “step up”.

“Although the government’s package of support will provide some welcome relief, it’s critical that, going into this tough winter, energy companies prioritise the needs of vulnerable customers struggling to pay their bills,” he said.

Ofgem’s findings on how companies support struggling customers

Severe weaknesses

  • TruEnergy

  • Utilita

  • ScottishPower

Moderate weaknesses

  • E

  • Good

  • Green Energy

  • Outfox

  • Bulb

Minor issues

  • Ecotricity

  • EDF

  • E.ON

  • Octopus

  • OVO

  • Shell

  • Utility Warehouse

  • SO/ESB

No significant issues

  • British Gas

All the energy companies identified have been asked to submit information to Ofgem to set out how they will improve their service.

Ofgem said it had already issued provisional orders to Utilita and ScottishPower, meaning they must take specific and urgent actions.

A ScottishPower spokesperson said: “We’re disappointed that all of the effort our staff make to help our customers manage affordability challenges has resulted in this conclusion from Ofgem.

“We will now work with Ofgem to implement their recommendations.”

A Utilita spokesperson said the company was “very disappointed” about Ofgem’s “decision to issue a provisional order rather than to engage with us”.

“Our staff are deeply committed to helping customers through the cost-of-living crisis and the financial support we offer is extensive: In 2022 alone, we will provide financial assistance more than a million times to customers who need our help,” it added.