Energy firms need to do more to help need to do more to help protect elderly customers, according to a new report.
The report from the Commission for Customers in Vulnerable Circumstances is calling for a new industry code of conduct to help drive up standards of support for vulnerable customers.
The commission says the energy sector is failing to meet the needs of customers, with the quality and availability of support varying widely across the industry – even sometimes within the same company.
It recommends training for staff to help them identify and support vulnerable customers.
Firms should also ensure customers can easily contact them by phone or letter.
The report also says the government should introduce a state-funded energy efficiency scheme for England to help tackle fuel poverty.
Chair of the commission, Lord Whitty, says it is very clear that there are huge variations in the way energy suppliers and the Big Six deal with energy customers, ranging from examples of “really good practice to examples of seriously insensitive treatment that fall far short of acceptable”.
He says: “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. There are, therefore, wider problems that must be tackled, which we have highlighted in our report.
“But our focus has been on what the energy industry can do itself, and in commissioning this report the industry has recognised the importance and challenge of improving standards in this area.
"We now hope that they - together with government, the regulator and consumer bodies - will take the further step of putting our recommendations into practice and committing to making the support of all those in need a top priority.”
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, adds: “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.”
Energy UK’s chief executive, Lawrence Slade, says: “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.”
A Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokeswoman says: “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 £6 billion to upgrading the energy efficiency of the homes of the most vulnerable.”