From illness to job loss to mental health issues, there are many things that can make consumers vulnerable, and less able to manage their energy day-to-day.
Our primary duty as the regulator is to protect and promote the interests of current and future consumers. This means ensuring the market is fair for all consumers, including those who might find themselves in vulnerable situations.
We expect businesses do the same. This means recognising that their duty of care extends to those that are least able to look after themselves or might have difficulty engaging with the market.
As the market rapidly evolves and becomes more complex, protecting these consumers becomes increasingly important.
We want companies to innovate and use digitalisation, decarbonisation and decentralisation to drive radical change in the products and services they offer customers.
Whilst these developments can bring huge benefits, it is imperative that no one is left behind, especially those consumers who are less digitally engaged and might not reap the benefits of an increasingly digitalised system.
It is essential that we address these new emerging groups of vulnerable consumers.
Our five key priorities
In light of this, we have set out five key priorities in our new Consumer Vulnerability Strategy 2025 (CVS 2025), that will deliver for both current and future consumers.
- Improving identification of vulnerability and smart use of data.
- Supporting those struggling with their bills.
- Driving significant improvement in customer service for vulnerable groups.
- Encouraging positive and inclusive innovation.
- Working with partners to tackle issues that cut across multiple sectors.
These are not optional areas for work. We expect these five priorities to be an essential part of companies’ service for their customers, driving the products and services they provide.
To help ensure this, we have also set a number of clear outcomes that we want to see happen for consumers in our strategy, based on these priorities. For example, we went to see better support for prepayment meter consumers who are at risk of “self-disconnecting”, when they lose their heating or lighting because they cannot afford to top up their meter, and a decrease in self-disconnections throughout the life of this strategy.
We are already consulting on making it an obligation that companies provide emergency credit to, and where possible identify, consumers at risk of self-disconnection.
Setting these clear actions will give businesses goals to work towards, and give us as the regulator a basis to monitor companies’ performance and how the market performs as a whole. We will publish this analysis in our annual vulnerability report.
A new focus on sustainability
As the UK works towards its legally binding target of net zero emissions by 2050, our objective is to help deliver this target at the lowest cost to consumers by facilitating the move to a low-carbon system.
This is why one our five major themes for the strategy is to encourage positive and inclusive innovation which helps to decarbonise the energy system and also benefits all consumers, including the vulnerable or those who may not be digitally savvy.
We need to carefully balance the interests of current and future consumers by keeping costs as low as possible, whilst also delivering on our emission targets and rolling out new low-carbon technology for the future in the most effective and fastest way. Our aim is that vulnerable consumers do not lose out in the transition to a decarbonised system
Reacting to a changing sector
The market is rapidly evolving and it’s impossible to forecast all the challenges which may arise out to 2025 and beyond. The goal of our strategy is to ensure that we, as the regulator, can be flexible and react to these changes to ensure that vulnerable consumers always get the protection they need
We will closely monitor the outcomes we have set for both ourselves and business, and evaluate how vulnerable consumers are treated in our annual Vulnerable Consumers in the Energy Market report, and our annual Consumer Impact report.
To bolster this monitoring process, amongst other things, in the first year we will also create a new analytical framework to assess the impact of our own policies on particular groups of consumers in vulnerable situations.
This will enable us to assess consumer groups at risk in a more targeted way, and identify more effective policy solutions
As a regulator we are preparing for the future, whilst also ensuring current consumers are treated fairly and the market works for them. This strategy represents the next step along that journey, and we look forward to continued collaboration with all of our stakeholders, to build a market that works for everyone, including those in vulnerable circumstances.