Energy suppliers commit to offering more help for customers this winter after round table with consumer groups and charities
Energy suppliers have committed to offering more help for struggling consumers this winter after MoneySavingExpert.com, Martin Lewis and representatives from charities Citizens Advice, National Energy Action and StepChange met with CEOs of Ovo, British Gas, Octopus, E.on, EDF and Shell Energy to discuss the crisis facing many households this winter.
With the energy price cap currently predicted to rise by a staggering 65% in October, following a similar massive hike back in April, millions could be facing the stark choice between heating and eating this winter.
In the midst of the cost of living crisis, charities, consumer groups and energy suppliers got together this week to find solutions to help consumers in England, Scotland and Wales this winter (Northern Ireland has a different system). The group put out a collective agreed-upon statement on what could be said off the back of the private meeting, outlining a series of changes that can be implemented as soon as possible.
This includes being clear on how exactly direct debits are set, working together to ask the regulator to shift the burden away from standing charges, creating a unified tool to help vulnerable customers get the support they need, and energy firms providing more direct support to consumer debt charities.
For the help available right now, see our What to do if you're struggling to pay your energy bills guide, and our Should you fix or stay on the price cap? guide for our analysis of the fixed deals worth considering.
'This winter will be catastrophic and will push millions into poverty'
Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, said: "The aim of this meeting was to cut the crap and get together with the leaders of the big firms, without government or regulators, to work together on the low-hanging fruit. It was a very productive, fast and action-orientated two hours.
"Yet far more is needed, and that must come from a functioning government. This winter will be catastrophic, the hideous spikes in wholesale energy costs will translate by October into Ofgem setting a price cap for a typical bill of £3,000 – close to four times what some paid just two years go. It will push millions into poverty.
"The Conservative Party must ensure there is a very quick succession process. We need a working and informed administration to tackle this at speed to forestall a very dangerous situation."
What new measures has the group announced it has agreed to work on?
- Improve understanding of how direct debits are set. Energy suppliers agreed to make their calculations available, so the rationale for increases or decreases can be better understood.
- Energy suppliers will explore setting up a priority call line for National Energy Action and StepChange advisers. So consumers who need energy supplier-specific support the most can receive it as quickly as possible.
- Investigate working together to ask the regulator to shift the burden in the price cap away from the standing charge. The price cap limits the rates you pay for gas and electric, but also sets a maximum daily standing charge (what you pay to have your home connected to the grid). So while you can reduce the amount of energy you use, you still have to pay the standing charge. The aim would also be to ensure protections are in place for vulnerable customers with high usage (such as some disabled people).
- Ensure those who can't pay are treated fairly. Energy suppliers agreed to work together with debt charities on a collective set of debt collection principles for unpaid energy bills.
- Energy suppliers agreed to explore publishing full tariff information for deals that are only available to their existing customers. To allow everyone to make an informed choice on the best value tariff available to them and to enable third parties such as MoneySavingExpert to be able to help with this decision.
- Creating a universal tool or widget that can go up on multiple sites and places to help people understand the support available. So you can more easily find what's available for you.
- To work together to provide clear information for the next Meter Reading Day. So consumers know who should and who shouldn't be providing readings.
- Support better implementation of the Government's £400 Energy Bill Support Scheme grant. Suppliers have agreed to sign up to a set of clear guidance, to be made available so that everyone can be assured they are getting the support Government intended them to.
- Support more families struggling with their finances this winter. Energy suppliers will explore giving additional financial support to National Energy Action, Citizens Advice and StepChange.
Work is underway to carry out these changes, and the attendees will meet again in September to see what more can be done to support customers.
The meeting was called by Martin and the founder of Ovo Energy
What do the suppliers say?
"Getting everyone around the table to find ways to help customers through this was a crucial first step. There is a lot of work to do but this meeting was a good start."