Energy suppliers commit to helping customers in debt

Fourteen energy retail companies have announced their collective commitment to go above and beyond current licensing conditions to help households struggling with energy bill debt this winter.

The ongoing affordability crisis has left millions of customers struggling to make ends meet, and with over £2.6 billion in energy debt nationwide[1], the energy sector is acutely aware of the financial pressures many people are facing.

The Winter 2023 Voluntary Debt Commitment, developed with Energy UK, Ofgem and Citizens Advice, means that energy suppliers are going further than existing regulatory obligations to provide better support to residential customers who are falling behind on their bills. The following domestic retail suppliers have signed up: British Gas, E, Ecotricity, EDF Energy, E.ON Next, Good Energy, Octopus, Ovo, Rebel Energy, Shell Energy Retail Limited, Scottish Power, So Energy, Utilita, Utility Warehouse.

The new commitments aim to provide immediate assistance to those in debt, as well as arming people with knowledge and resources to empower them to manage their energy bills more effectively. They include substantial pledges of additional financial support, training for frontline staff talking to callers with debt problems, proactively identifying customers struggling to pay bills, continued close working with debt charities and consumer bodies who can offer specialist advice and make referrals and steps to provide suitable solutions for customers in debt, and ensure they are treated fairly at all times.

In collaboration with Citizens Advice, the energy retail sector is also launching an industry-wide communications campaign to ensure people know what to do if they’re in debt. The campaign, “SPEAK, SEEK, SAVE,” advises:

  • SPEAK to your energy supplier – they can help you with a payment plan and let you know what other support they may have on offer
  • SEEK advice on managing debt – get advice from a debt charity or organisation such as Citizens Advice, StepChange or the National Debtline
  • SAVE energy by making sure your home is energy efficient – simple changes such as checking central heating controls, or using appliances differently, can help avoid wasted energy

Daniel Portis, Deputy Director at Energy UK said:

“Our industry recognises the challenges many customers are facing, and suppliers that serve homes across the country have invested in different ways to support them. These new commitments, in conjunction with the ‘SPEAK, SEEK, SAVE’ campaign, are a further step in our collaborative efforts to help customers struggling financially.”

The energy retail sector is providing millions of pounds in discretionary financial support this year, and since the crisis began has taken action to support customers including partnering with debt advice charities, implementing new data-driven systems to help better identify vulnerable customers and giving away free electric blankets. However, customer debt and arrears in energy is double the level it was at the start of 2020.

Energy UK is warning that without additional Government support, millions of people will struggle to pay for their energy this winter. It is calling on the Government to urgently commit to targeted financial support for households on means-tested and disability benefits.

Commenting further, Portis said:

“We cannot solve this on our own. Even with every support option that suppliers have to offer, there is potential for many customers to struggle to pay for their energy. That is why we are urging Government to deliver on its promised consultation on enduring support, like a social tariff, and urgently step in with targeted support for those who will need it most this winter – suppliers stand ready to deliver this to customers at pace.”