Advocacy group hopes investigation will see vulnerable customers "treated fairly"
CITIZENS Advice Scotland (CAS) has welcomed Ofgem’s investigation into Scottish and Southern Energy’s (SSE) pre-payment meter processes.
The energy regulator said it was responding to concerns raised by groups such as CAS, about the Perth-based company’s approach to switching customers in debt or those struggling over to pre-payment tariffs.
The regulator’s probe will focus on the impact of the switching process on those in potentially vulnerable situations and will consider whether SSE breached its standards of conduct, which are in place to ensure suppliers treat customers fairly.
"It is therefore appropriate that Ofgem carries out this investigation in order to ensure that SSE’s vulnerable customers are treated fairly." Craig Salter
It will also examine whether the company breached licence conditions, which require it to provide appropriate information, and ensure an individual consumer’s ability to pay, when suggesting or selling an alternative payment method or package.
Speaking to CommonSpace, Craig Salter, energy spokesman for the CAS Consumer Futures unit, said: “Suppliers must always ensure that customers in debt receive the levels of support and protection that they need.
"We know that consumers using pre-pay metres (PPMs) have less access to lower-cost tariffs than those using other payment methods, so moving consumers to PPMs should be a last resort – particularly because PPMs are already more common in Scotland.
"It is therefore appropriate that Ofgem carries out this investigation in order to ensure that SSE’s vulnerable customers are treated fairly."
When asked for a comment SSE described the reasons for the investigation as an "historic issue".
A spokesman for the energy provider said: "We are committed to treating all our customers fairly and will be cooperating fully with Ofgem’s investigation into this historic issue."
"Moving consumers to PPMs should be a last resort – particularly because PPMs are already more common in Scotland." Craig Salter
According to Ofgem, this investigation is part of a wider strategy by the regulator of honing in on all of the ‘big six’ supplier’s approaches to switching their customers to PPM tariffs, particularly those in potentially vulnerable situations.
Ofgem said: "The investigation will examine whether the supplier breached licence conditions which require them to provide appropriate information and ensure consumers’ ability to pay when suggesting alternative payment methods."
However, it added the opening of the investigation does not imply Ofgem has made any findings about non-compliance.
Following a two-year energy investigation, the regulator has said that a transitional price cap would be introduced for PPM customers, which it believes would help cut bills by around £300m a year.
Picture courtesy of Ricky Willis
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