UK energy providers to set up dedicated phone lines for vulnerable households

Energy providers will be forced to offer dedicated phone lines to vulnerable households in a campaign by regulator Ofgem to improve the mistreatment of disadvantaged customers.

The regulator is planning to crack down on provider conduct after a drop in customer service during the energy crisis with long call wait times and difficulty contacting companies.

Ofgem will launch a consultation today on methods to improve its service, The Guardian has learned, and the regulator wants to see improvements before next winter.

Among the measures it is considering is a new rule that requires providers to prominently display third-party customer service data on their websites.

The measures are Ofgem’s response to the scandal over the forced installation of prepaid meters. The practice was banned earlier this year after it emerged that British Gas debt officers had allegedly ignored signs of vulnerability to install the meters. Ofgem later announced new rules about its installation, and the ban remains in effect.

Their research, conducted with Citizens Advice, has shown that retail customer satisfaction fell from 74% at the end of 2018 to 66% at the end of 2022.

The industry has been hit by a crisis, which began after the pandemic in 2021 and was exacerbated by the invasion of Ukraine, and has led to the bankruptcy of nearly 30 energy providers.

Ofgem wants providers to quickly offer advice and default payment plans for households struggling to pay bills, and it wants to prevent providers from requiring minimum payments when customers fall behind.

Those in vulnerable circumstances are struggling to contact their provider quickly enough, Ofgem has found, and wants companies to offer them a dedicated hotline.

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The regulator hopes to create new universal standards to protect consumers and bolster its own monitoring of customer service to become more proactive.

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