Martin Lewis and MSE among organisations urging energy firms to act over missing bill help vouchers for non-smart prepay users
MoneySavingExpert.com and its founder Martin Lewis are among a coalition of organisations today calling on energy firms to take urgent action to ensure households on traditional (non-smart) prepayment meters can access the Government's vital energy help.
The five organisations, which also include consumer group Which? and the charities Age UK, Citizens Advice and National Energy Action, have written a joint letter to energy firm chief executives and business and energy secretary Grant Shapps. You can read the full letter below.
Unlike other energy users, who get the Government's £400 'energy bill support scheme' grant paid into their bank account or energy account automatically, those on traditional prepayment meters are sent vouchers which they have to redeem.
But in a recent MoneySavingExpert.com investigative survey, one in five told us they were still waiting for their October and November vouchers – while the Government's own stats, published today, show that one third (34%) of these vouchers are yet to be redeemed.
If you're currently struggling to pay for your energy, see our Energy bills help guide for the support you could get.
Letter to energy firm chief executives from consumer groups and charities
CC Secretary of State Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP
We are writing to raise our serious concern that vital government help with energy bills is not reaching hundreds of thousands of people who need it the most. We urge you to take immediate action so that customers can access this vital support as the cold weather sets in and puts vulnerable groups, including older and disabled people, at greater risk of health difficulties and even death.
As you will know, customers on traditional prepayment meters are more likely to be vulnerable and on lower incomes. They are also in the minority of customers who need to take action in order to receive the government's £400 energy bills discount, which is being distributed to traditional prepayment customers by energy companies in the form of vouchers which they will need to redeem at a top-up point.
Government data published today shows that across October and November, one third (34%) of vouchers had not yet been redeemed. While we appreciate that this may be due to a variety of factors, it is essential that these reasons are identified, so that both systematic and specific issues can be addressed, and customers can easily and conveniently access this support, particularly ahead of the festive period when many will be relying on this support to help make ends meet.
It cannot be right that millions of pounds of Government support is going unclaimed while low income and vulnerable groups are at risk.
We are calling on you to:
- Publish the voucher redemption rates for your traditional prepayment customers, per delivery method, on a monthly basis. This will allow us to understand which delivery methods (for example post, email and SMS texts) are most effective at reaching customers.
- Urgently investigate why redemption rates have so far been low amongst traditional prepayment customers, to understand any specific issues that your customers are facing.
- Address any issues swiftly and adapt your delivery approaches to the most effective delivery method as shown by the data, where relevant and where the current method is not working well for the customer, keeping customers fully informed of any changes. We are seeing evidence that some customers have not received their vouchers (or are perhaps not recognising the vouchers when they are delivered) - these issues should be addressed immediately.
- Step up your efforts to raise customer awareness about the scheme, alongside other stakeholders, including by letting customers know how their vouchers are being delivered and what they need to do to redeem them.
We understand that this is a new, complex scheme that has been implemented quickly during a challenging time. Nevertheless, we believe it is your responsibility, alongside Government, to do everything you can to ensure this vital support reaches people as soon as possible.
As consumer groups and charities, we are committed to standing up for consumers and fighting for them to get the support they need and are entitled to, and we look forward to working alongside you to make this happen.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director, Age UK
Gillian Cooper, head of energy policy, Citizens Advice
Martin Lewis, founder and chair, MoneySavingExpert.com
Adam Scorer, chief executive, National Energy Action
Rocio Concha, director of policy and advocacy, Which?
What do the energy firms say?
Dhara Vyas, deputy chief executive of Energy UK, a trade body that represents energy suppliers, said: "Suppliers are doing everything possible to ensure that the vouchers are reaching customers. Anyone worried about missing their vouchers or struggling to pay their bills should get in touch with their supplier.
"With more customers seeking more help than ever before, call centres are inevitably very busy so we'd urge callers to keep trying and use different communication methods if they are able to."
What does the Government say?
A spokesperson for the department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: "We want to ensure everyone gets the energy support they're entitled to. We are continuing to work with suppliers to ensure prepayment meter customers are aware of where they can locate vouchers sent to them and can easily access advice if they require help redeeming them."
What to do if you haven't got your vouchers
All eligible prepay users should have received their first two £66 vouchers by now – and some will be getting their third (for £67). These will have been sent from your energy supplier by post, email or text message.
If you haven't got yours, here's what you can do:
- Make sure your supplier has your latest contact details. One reason you might not have got your voucher is that it was sent to an out of date phone number or email address. Here, prevention is better than cure. Make sure your energy supplier has your latest details to minimise the risk of delays with your future vouchers. You should be able to do this in your online account (if you have one) or by contacting your supplier directly.
- Ask your supplier to resend the voucher. If it was initially sent by post, ask your supplier if it can send it by email or text message instead. The Government says suppliers are required to make all reasonable efforts to ensure you get your discount.
- Already tried contacting your supplier? Next, raise a formal complaint. If you've already tried contacting your supplier but you're not getting anywhere, the next step is to raise an official complaint. You can do this directly with your supplier or using the free Resolver tool.
If necessary, you can then take it to the Energy Ombudsman – but you can only do this once eight weeks have passed or if you receive a deadlock letter. The Energy Ombudsman is an independent body that handles disputes between consumers and energy firms.