Energy Companies Criticised by Regulator as More Customers Fall into Debt
September 26, 2019
More and more people across the UK are finding themselves in arrears to the companies that provide their gas and electricity supplies.
That’s according to the latest official figures given by the energy sector watchdog Ofgem, which has criticised gas and electricity suppliers for not doing enough to help some of their more financially vulnerable customers.
Ofgem says that the overall number of electricity consumers in debt increased by 4.2 per cent to 1.31 million last year, while the figures for indebted gas consumers increased by 4.8 per cent to reach 1.05 million people.
There were more UK consumers switched onto affordable repayment plans last year but significantly more people fell into energy debt over the course of that same period.
Ofgem has said that it wants to see energy suppliers acting more quickly to help their customers who are struggling to pay their bills and to give them more clarity about what their repayment options are.
The worry is that for a lot of energy consumers, being left in arrears for long periods of time can lead to increasingly difficult debt situations arising.
Another concern for Ofgem is that prepayment meters are still being installed by suppliers under warrant as a means of collecting debts, with the regulator keen to cut down on that practice.
The watchdog says that there was a 15 per cent fall in the number of prepayment meters forcibly installed last year but there were still tens of thousands of instances of this happening across the country.
“Energy is an essential service, and suppliers must take particular care with those customers who are less able to manage and pay for their energy,” said Mary Starks, executive director for consumers and markets at Ofgem.
“We are pleased that suppliers are making such good progress on getting extra help to vulnerable customers that need it, for example by making their bills easier to access or read.
“However, some suppliers are simply not keeping up with the rising numbers of customers who owe them money. It’s imperative that suppliers move quickly and efficiently to help struggling customers manage paying back their debts, or risk pushing them further into hardship.”