Coronavirus (COVID-19): Protecting consumers

Jonathan Brearley

Jonathan Brearley

Ofgem CEO
27th March 2020
Areas covered:
Consumers
Electricians doing repairs
I want to start by showing our appreciation to all those working in the energy industry, especially frontline staff, during the coronavirus crisis. Energy is an essential service at all times - never more true than today.
 

As we all work out how best to respond to current challenges the people that work in this industry, especially the engineers and other frontline staff, are an important part of the national response to the crisis. By maintaining Britain’s supply of electricity and gas, they make it possible for us to heat and light our homes, for businesses to function and for the NHS to care for the sick.

So on behalf of energy consumers, I would like to thank everyone working in the industry for their dedication and professionalism during this challenging time.

In order to maintain Britain’s energy supplies, maintenance and repairs on the network will need to continue. Network companies are prioritising their work to focus on what is most important. To keep our energy flowing, this will mean that some employees may need to visit properties and work in the streets. So if you see people digging up the road or carrying out other maintenance, please be aware that they are there to make sure we have access to the energy we all need. Network operators will also ensure that they follow the guidelines set by government on safe working. The Energy Networks Association has issued more information.

I want to update you all on the action Ofgem is taking, working closely with Government and the energy industry, to protect consumers throughout the coronavirus crisis.

Our priority is to protect consumers, especially the vulnerable, and maintain Britain’s supply of electricity and gas. On Monday, the Government introduced new measures to reduce the spread of coronavirus, including requiring people to stay at home, except for buying food, for health reasons or for essential work. The transport and utilities sectors have been identified as critical for the continuation of essential public services.

We have now published links to guidelines from government on Ofgem’s coronavirus page to help signpost industry to current advice.

These are unprecedented times. I want to make sure that Ofgem does everything we can to help industry respond to this crisis most effectively. 

This week, we have been having ongoing discussions with network companies and energy suppliers in order to see what activities they may need to de-prioritise in order to do this, and how this might impact on their ability to comply with their various regulatory obligations.  We will update publically following the conclusion of those discussions.

Ofgem is also currently reviewing our planned work for this year, so we can prioritise protecting consumers during the crisis. On Wednesday, we temporarily paused the publishing of new policy publications on our website, with the exception of legally required releases or information relating to the coronavirus only, until this review has completed. We will update stakeholders in due course.

Consumers can play their part. The energy industry, like many other sectors, is under strain and call centres have seen a significant increase in the volume of customer calls. Call centre capacity has been reduced as they migrate to remote working and staffing levels are down because of coronavirus, leading to long call waiting times for customers.

I would urge customers not to call their energy supplier or network company unless they are in a vulnerable situation or it’s a safety or emergency issue. This will ensure that those trying to get through who are most in need get help more quickly.

If you are in vulnerable circumstances, there is more help available. Around 6 million electricity and gas customers are already signed up to the Priority Services Register which provides additional services in the event of a power cut for example. You can find out more about the Register, who is eligible and how to sign up on our website.

This is a fast moving situation. Ofgem will continue to post updates on our website providing the latest advice and information for consumers and industry to follow. We are working closely with Citizens Advice, as well as with government and industry, to ensure that consumers get the information they need.

We will continue to do all we can to protect consumers, especially the vulnerable, and to maintain Britain’s energy supplies during this crisis.