Citizens Advice response to Ofgem’s final proposals on self-disconnection and self-rationing
Self-disconnection is part of life for too many customers who use prepayment. Both Ofgem and Citizens Advice research has previously shown that around 1 in 7 people using prepay meters are disconnected each year, although more recent research by Citizens Advice (using a different methodology) suggested that 1 in 3 had disconnected in 2019/20. Our research has also shown that these disconnections can have a serious impact on both the physical and mental health of those affected.
As we said in our response to Ofgem’s call for evidence on self-disconnection and rationing, a fair society and a properly functioning energy market should guarantee people a reliable energy supply, rather than being left in cold, dark homes. Although this issue is not Ofgem’s alone to resolve, the regulator can play a key part in reducing the harm to consumers.
The COVID-19 crisis has further laid bare the extent to which customers who use prepay - and especially traditional prepay - can be at risk of disconnection if they can’t afford to top up or are unable to access top-up facilities. While the current voluntary agreement between BEIS and energy suppliers has provided real, additional support during the pandemic, it’s clear that enduring and enforceable rules are required.
Last year we called for Ofgem to radically improve the prepay experience and to set an ambition of seeing an end to self-disconnection as part of its vulnerability strategy. We think these proposals generally represent a significant step forward in reaching these goals. While we broadly support the intent of the proposals, we have set out detailed comments in our response on how the proposed drafting can be improved. Some of these changes are vital in order for the proposals to work in practice or achieve Ofgem’s policy intent, while we think others would maximise consumer benefit from the proposals.