How UK utility companies are supporting their most vulnerable customers

Around half of adults in the UK do not have enough savings to cover an unexpected bill of £300. And the number of people over 85 in the UK is rising rapidly, currently at 1.4m.

These two statistics alone suggest the number of potentially vulnerable people in the UK is vast. And all of them need heating, power and water.

So how do utility companies ensure that they help their most vulnerable customers?

It’s a challenge with many possible solutions, and the industry has launched a number of innovative schemes.

Energy Commission

The energy sector has been leading the way. In 2018 Energy UK created The Commission for Customers in Vulnerable Circumstances.

Independently chaired by Lord Whitty, with five expert commissioners from a wide range of backgrounds, its report is the culmination of over a year of evidence gathering and engagement with various stakeholders.

They identified seven key themes, including:

  • a comprehensive regulatory framework with timely support and protection
  • easy identification of needs and access to support from suppliers
  • a range of ways for customers to communicate with their supplier
  • and effective links between suppliers and support organisations.

Among the commission’s recommendations is the creation of a new code of conduct, which Energy UK is committed to introducing.

Police partnership

An existing pillar of support for vulnerable customers is the priority services register.

This is a list people who need extra services such as personalised communication or bottled water delivered to their home during a supply interruption.

But how do you identify customers who should be on that register?

Thames Water has teamed up with community police officers to reach more vulnerable customers.

And it is working. Chief Superintendent Shaun Virtue said: “We’re really pleased with how this has gone so far and it is having a real impact.”

Innovative thinking

Technology is also being used as a way to help these customers. At the Utility Week Consumer Vulnerability Conference, delegates learned about the safe entry door bell pioneered by United Utilities.

It was described by one person at the conference as a “simple yet innovative idea to keep people safe from bogus callers in their own homes”.

Another innovation saw Northumbrian Water triumph in the Customer Initiative of the Year category at the Water Industry Awards.

Its ‘Water Without Worry’ campaign won after judges heard how it brings together the company’s affordability and priority services initiatives to ensure that customers are able to access the services they need.

This ranges from affordability of water bills and preventing bogus callers to support for those with special medical needs, access challenges and those in crisis or suffering bereavement.

What we do
Qa Research undertakes a wide range of customer insight and research studies for water companies.
Core topic areas have focused on Attitudes to River Water Quality, Improving Bathing Water Quality, Evaluating Behaviour Change Campaigns (water saving initiatives and sewer blockage prevention), Testing New Billing Concepts and Designs, Evaluating Behaviours During Water Supply Interruption, Online Tool Development for Willingness to Pay Surveying and much more.Find out more about the work we’ve done within the water sector by contacting Richard Bryan on richard.bryan@qaresearch.co.uk

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