Ofgem orders Utility Warehouse to pay £1.5m for failing customers in debt - here's what to do if you are struggling to pay your bills
Ofgem has ordered Utility Warehouse to pay £1.5m after the company failed to support customers who were struggling with their bills, which the energy regulator said left them "disadvantaged".
In a ruling published by Ofgem today (10 November), Utility Warehouse accepted that it had failed to consistently treat customers fairly.
The £1.5m charge will be paid into Ofgem’s voluntary redress fund, which supports charity projects in England, Scotland and Wales and provides money to charities to deliver energy related projects, for example, to support energy consumers in vulnerable situations.
Those impacted by Utility Warehouse's failure will not directly benefit from the £1.5m payment but Ofgem said the company had taken steps to go through the accounts of those affected to ensure they received the service they were entitled to.
The regulator was made aware of the failings following an audit report in 2018 and opened a formal investigation that found the failings took place between 2013 and 2019. Ofgem concluded that Utility Warehouse did not consistently look to put customers struggling with their energy bills on debt repayment plans.
Customers were also not offered the choice of paying back charges via the voluntary installation of a pre-payment meter, nor were they offered energy efficient advice on how to reduce their bills.
Utility Warehouse admitted it additonally submitted inaccurate Social Obligation Reporting data to Ofgem between 2013 and 2019, data that allows the regulator to review a supplier's performance in terms of social obligations and compliance.
Ofgem said that if customers are still facing issues with Utility Warehouse then they should contact the company directly to discuss their concerns.
Here's what you can do if you feel your supplier isn't supporting you
If you're struggling with energy payments:
- Ask for a payment plan. If you know you’re going to struggle paying your energy bills, contact your supplier as soon as possible. According to the regulator, suppliers must work with you to agree a payment plan you can afford.
- Pay off your debt through your benefits. It might be possible to repay your debt directly from your benefits through the Fuel Direct Scheme. A fixed amount will be taken from your benefits to cover what you owe, plus an extra amount for your current use.
- Consider energy hardship funds, which some providers offer. If you have been hit by a huge bill and find yourself in arrears there's help available. Some providers offer an energy fund scheme to help with arrears if you're facing serious financial hardship.
- Complain to the energy ombudsman if you feel your supplier is not helping. If you've asked for help from your provider but have been unsuccessful, then you can take your complaint to the Energy Ombudsman Service, which is approved by Ofgem.
What does Ofgem say?
Cathryn Scott, director of enforcement and emerging issues at Ofgem, said: "Energy suppliers are required to look after their customers, especially those in vulnerable situations.
"While the unprecedented and unexpected rise in gas and electricity prices over recent months has put energy markets under severe strain, we expect suppliers to continue to comply with their licence obligations and treat people fairly, including by providing support to vulnerable consumers."