We have all started to see the widespread impact that coronavirus is having on our lives and those around us. Whether working in healthcare, transport or food retail, working from home or in an at-risk group self-isolating, we all depend on a safe and reliable supply of electricity and gas during this challenging time. Therefore, I would like to start this blog by thanking, again, all those working in the sector at this difficult time. They are working hard to keep the energy system running, whether in control rooms or customer service centres, or carrying out emergency repairs in people’s homes and in the streets.
Yet energy companies, like others, will face significant operational challenges in responding to coronavirus, as well staff shortages and a reduced capacity to work due to, for example, sickness, self isolation or staff looking after children or relatives. As a result, they will need to reprioritise their work to focus on the things that their customers need most. In particular, this means looking after customers, particularly those most vulnerable, keeping customers and staff safe and maintaining our world class security and reliability of energy supplies.
This is why today we are publishing letters to networks and suppliers, setting out what is high priority now and must be delivered. We are also clarifying what is lower priority and may be deprioritised if necessary. We also recognise that decisions by energy companies have been and may need to be taken quickly and in conditions of high uncertainty.
Now is a challenging time for all businesses. As an essential utility, customers will continue to need energy whatever their circumstances, and I’m pleased that the energy industry has already demonstrated its commitment to customers. For example, suppliers have signed an agreement with government to protect the domestic energy supply of those most in need during the disruption caused by Covid-19. The purpose of today’s letters is to provide clarity so that the industry is free to focus on core services to customers.
We consulted energy networks, electricity generators, gas shippers and suppliers to determine which works and services are high priority at this time, and I’d like to thank them for working constructively in developing this.
Everyone can play their part to ease the pressure, by only contacting their energy companies in an emergency such as for a gas leak or power fault, or if they are in a vulnerable situation and need to speak to someone, for example if they can’t get to a shop to top up their pre-payment meter. In the months ahead, companies may not be able to provide the level of customer service that we would all like, but I hope customers will appreciate that this is because they are having to prioritise those most in need.
Assuming there is no material change in circumstances, this framework of regulatory flexibility will remain until 30 June 2020. As we approach that time, we will review the case for extending and/or amending it, based on circumstances at the time. We are also pausing some of Ofgem’s work until 30 June 2020 to allow staff to focus on the more critical issues that the industry is facing.