Ofgem/Energy Saving Trust Visits COC Energy Awareness Project & Reassures Energy Users Still priority of the Regulator

With ever increasing gas and electricity bills exacerbated by a cost of living crisis, the Chief Executive Officer of Ofgem (Office of Gas and Electricity Markets) that regulates the energy markets has confirmed the regulator is still doing its best to protect everyone including vulnerable energy customers from energy companies mostly interested only in making profits.

Jonathan Brearley (appointed Ofgem boss in February 2020) was speaking during a round table consultation with energy users from ethnic minority backgrounds in Liverpool at the church hall of Christian Gold House Ministry in Kensington on Tuesday October 31 2023. Mr Brealey said he was in Liverpool “ to listen and learn” about  issues energy users faced especially new challenges they now encounter dealing with their energy suppliers following ever increasing energy cost. “I am here to see how the increase in prices affects people but also why prices are going down a little but people still struggle” he added.

He was part of a delegation that included Anthony Kyriakides, Head of Renewables and Anneliese Appleton, Senior Development Officer at Energy Saving Trust and Lucy Fairweather, an admin staff at Ofgem. Citizen Outreach Coalition (COC) two years’ energy savings awareness campaign is funded with a grant from Ofgem which is administered by the Energy Saving Trust, an independent organisation that promotes energy efficiency, energy conservation and the sustainable use of Energy. The funds were made available through the Energy Industrial Voluntary Scheme which fines energy companies that may have breached ofgem rules.

Challenges faced by Energy users

Complaints presented to the visiting team from participants included everything from overbilling, difficulties understanding energy bills, difficulties in switching from monthly or quarterly payments to prepayments meters by some users with fuel debt. Other difficulties outlined to the visiting officials included language barriers some people have communicating their problems to their energy suppliers. COC energy awareness project manager Francis Langley said energy prices were now so high some people were “capping off” ( putting off their gas supplies because they could not afford the bills)

Sylvia Kalungi, Lead and founder of Women and Digital Inclusion, one of COC partners in the energy project said people needed support whether they were paying monthly or using prepayment meters. “Things are so bad I have met people making decisions whether to heat or to eat.“  According to rules of the energy project, only people on prepayment meters could be supported if they were in energy debt or at risk of getting into debt.

Proposals on resolving some issues

Mr Brearley said energy users had a wide range of options to enable them resolve some of their energy issues including contacting their suppliers to complain and referring the issue to the energy ombudsman. He also said a lot of energy companies had trust or hardship funds that people with energy debts could contact for support. Every energy user he added could always “shop around for better tariffs” if they thought their energy companies were billing them excessively. He made notes during the consultations and promised to contact the energy suppliers with some of the issues raised during the meeting.

The Project

Francis Ngwa, the project Adviser said COC applied for funding to support vulnerable energy users so they could reduce their energy use and so reduce their bills. The project included holding community awareness campaigns during social events, home advice, telephone and face to face advice sessions. The project has delivered the first of the two years it is meant to last. He outlined some of the problems common to most of the people he has supported either through home visits, face to face meetings or community events. “Most people complain of high bills, issues with increasing energy debts and problems of companies chasing them for debts they had no idea how they had such debt”. He outlined the case of a prepayment user who said OVO company was chasing him for a more than £1400 debt which he was supposed to have accrued on a prepayment meter in his last address.  He advised the customer to report the matter to the ombudsman and also ask OVO to send him the detailed breakdown of the usage. By then, OVO had already sent the debt to a debt collections company and the continuous reminder letters from the debt company was “stressing” the customer up. Other companies whose services were under scrutiny by the participants in the round table were Scottish Gas, British Gas and OVO.

The Liverpool energy awareness project COC is presently delivery will run for the next one year


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