More needs to be done by energy companies this winter to address the poor treatment of society’s most vulnerable citizens, according to a new report.
The report by researchers at Sheffield Hallam University found that energy firms are not doing enough to help vulnerable citizens when they ring for advice about their fuel bills or cold homes, research has found. This is despite the fact that energy is legally recognised as an essential service and the regulator Ofgem is meant to ensure that everyone has access to the energy services they need.
The study, entitled Reaching the Hardest to Reach with Energy Advice, was led by Dr Aimee Ambrose, reader in Energy Policy at Sheffield Hallam University, and was carried out in partnership with Citizens Advice.
Dr Ambrose and her team spoke in detail to a panel of 26 highly vulnerable and marginalised citizens, including those leading complex and chaotic lives – with disabilities, addictions, dementia and other health conditions – who were struggling to get help with their energy costs.
They found that citizens were only seeking advice when they had received strongly worded communications from energy companies or were under pressure to pay bills they could not afford. When they did ask for help, they felt ‘patronised’ and ‘treated disrespectfully’ by energy company call handlers.
The respondents also commented that the automated systems made it difficult to speak with a real person and that, when they did manage to get through, the service offered was not satisfactory.
Dr Ambrose said: ‘We spoke to some of society’s most vulnerable citizens who we found after approaching them via foodbanks and homeless shelters, among other places
‘We found that they were only reaching out for help in desperation and, when they did, the advice and support being offered was inadequate and insensitive to their needs. We are asking energy companies and government to do more to ensure our most vulnerable members of society are able to keep warm this winter; access vital energy services at an affordable price; and be treated with dignity and respect.’
Read the report here.