Ofgem’s Chief Executive, Jonathan Brearley, visited South Wales on Wednesday 11 October to meet organisations supporting people who are struggling amid the ongoing cost of living crisis.
During the latest in a series of fact finding visits around the UK to find out how people concerned about rising energy bills were being supported, the energy regulator’s CEO joined the team at Citizens Advice Cardiff & Vale.
Mr Brearley spent time speaking to advisors to understand the challenges service users are facing, and joined them to listen in to calls from consumers experiencing energy debt and fuel poverty. He also took part in a roundtable discussion with the charity’s Cardiff & Vale CEO, Jane Clay, and Deputy CEO, Abbie Morgan O’Sullivan.
In the afternoon, the Ofgem Chief spent time at the Splott community volunteer food and heat bank where he met Councillor Ed Stubbs, Chair of the Splott community volunteers and local councillor for the Splott Ward, and spoke to volunteers and service users about how the service supports the local community.
Welsh Government estimates suggest up to 45% of households in Wales could be living in fuel poverty, which means they spend more than 10% of their total household income on maintaining a warm home.
Ofgem recently consulted on new requirements for energy suppliers to provide better support for those struggling with their bills. These include early intervention to identify people in need, offering measures like repayment holidays when needed, and prioritising those in vulnerable situations. The regulator is aiming for measures to be in place by December.
Ofgem is also working to ensure energy firms are providing good customer service so that when people are struggling with bills and need to speak to their suppliers, they are not affected by delays or poor service.
Suppliers were challenged to improve standards after a market compliance review in February 2023, and the regulator has also used it powers to fine providers that fell short of the standards expected, with E.On paying a total of £5 million in June 2023 for failings in customer service.
The regulator also recently announced new protections for the most vulnerable consumers and banned energy suppliers from forcibly installing prepayment meters (PPMs) for people over 75 with no support in their house, and homes with children aged under 2.
Jonathan Brearley, Chief Executive at Ofgem said:
The work both Citizens Advice Cardiff and Vale, and the Splott community volunteer food and heat bank are doing is incredibly important in supporting families facing a hugely challenging time this winter.
Protecting consumers is our number one priority at Ofgem. We’re working closely with suppliers to make sure they are supporting their customers, particularly the most vulnerable, and won’t hesitate to act if we think they are falling short.
We’re also planning further changes to improve the support available for those who might be struggling with bills. We need to make sure that if they need it, consumers can get help as quickly and easily as possible.
Jane Clay, Chief Executive at Citizens Advice Cardiff & Vale, said:
Rising energy costs are pushing people into financial difficulty, and we are seeing more people accessing our service for advice on their bills. Over the last 12 months, 22% of our clients who sought advice on a debt issue needed help with energy debts and 34% of our clients who needed help with their energy bills requested an emergency fuel bank voucher.
Often our clients have difficulty getting through to their suppliers to discuss their options, which can result in their situation worsening and leading to energy debts being accrued. Many of our clients are struggling to keep up with their payments for their current usage, and therefore the build-up of debt will only make the situation more challenging. As we head into the colder months, we anticipate that more people will need to access our service for support, with many households facing the decision of whether to heat their homes or feed their families. We would encourage anyone concerned about managing their energy bills to get in touch with their local Citizens Advice office for advice and support.
Ed Stubbs, Chair of Splott Community Volunteers said:
Last winter was incredibly tough and it can’t happen again. We are grateful that Ofgem came to hear from our volunteers and service users and will be continuing to share our views into the future.
It’s important that people at the sharp end of the cost-of-living crisis are heard. There is an open invitation to energy suppliers if they want to hear how tough it’s been as well.
In August Mr Brearley also visited Birmingham where he met with advisors from National Debtline, and listened to the challenges facing clients of the Fuel Bank Foundation based in the city. He also went to Manchester in July where he met with several business leaders and heard concerns about impacts on industry.
As part of a review into the service domestic and non-domestic customers are receiving from suppliers, Ofgem identified some of the challenges facing businesses and is consulting on proposals to extend some of the protections that exist for small businesses to all businesses.
It has also asked government to introduce regulation for energy brokers which are currently outside of its remit, as well as asking for businesses to be given access to the Energy Ombudsman.
Ofgem’s Energy Aware campaign continues to provide customers with simple easy tips that will help them to save money and keep their bills as low as possible.