Scottish electricity network companies need to do more to support vulnerable consumers

Call for action from Citizens Advice Scotland based on CSE research

7 August 2018

Vulnerable households in Scotland, Southern England, Merseyside and North Wales are getting far less support from their electricity distribution companies – SP Energy Networks (SPEN) and Scottish and Southern Energy Networks (SSEN) – than is on offer from the top performing companies whose networks cover other parts of Great Britain.

That’s the main conclusion of a new hard-hitting policy paper, Pylons, Pipes and People: Energy networks in Scotland and their changing role with consumers, published by Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS). It is based on a research study undertaken by CSE with Changeworks which is also published today.

The research study’s particular focus was how the energy networks currently support consumers and how their role in Scotland can and should change in the future to ensure consumers, and particularly vulnerable consumers, are most effectively supported. The study involved a literature review (up to January 2018) and a series of ten in-depth interviews with senior representatives of the network companies and other key stakeholders and experts (undertaken January – March 2018).

Simon Roberts, Chief Executive of CSE and lead author of the report to CAS, said:

“In relation to support for vulnerable households, the gap between the top-performing electricity distribution companies and the worst has now got so wide that it’s become really noticeable. Every network company has some good initiatives, but not all of the companies take a strategic approach and scale up successful initiatives. Our report calls on the energy regulator Ofgem to address what risks becoming a post-code lottery for vulnerable households.”

Citizens Advice Scotland spokesman Jamie Stewart said:

“Each year, the energy regulator Ofgem ranks the electricity distribution companies across Britain according to their support for vulnerable consumers and stakeholder engagement. In 2016-17 the Scottish electricity distribution companies were at the bottom of the table. We recognise that SSEN and SPEN have invested in a number of valuable programmes to support consumers over the years. However we suggest that Scottish companies should increase the reach of programmes for vulnerable consumers. We think this is vital to ensure that the most vulnerable in society do not miss out on support in comparison to other parts of Great Britain.”

CSE’s research study report and the CAS policy paper also draw attention to the importance of ensuring that fuel poor and vulnerable households in Scotland are not ‘left behind’ as the energy system evolves into one that is smarter, greener and more flexible. The research found that SPEN and SSEN were both particularly strong advocates of what they each separately described as a principle that ‘no one gets left behind’ as the system changes, with some careful thought being applied to what this might mean for their future practice.

CSE’s research report can be downloaded here.

The CAS policy paper can be downloaded from the CAS website.

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