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UTILITY Week 30th October 2015

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Page 14 of 31

Policy & Regulation UTILITY WEEK | 30TH OCTOBER - 5TH NOVEMBER 2015 | 15 T his year's party confer- ences came aer some of the most unexpected democratic outcomes for many years. The election of a major- ity Conservative government, the collapse of the Liberal Democrat vote, the rise of the SNP in Scotland, and the elec- tion of the new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Few predicted such circumstances going into the conference season. It has also marked a contin- uation of the much-overused description of "interesting times" for energy, something which Utility Week's policy positioning paper (see p12) has captured very well. This is especially the case for our members in the electricity and gas networks. Throughout our Utility Week Lobby party confer- ence fringe events the theme of trust and confidence oen began squarely with the customer, as it should, but also moved across the sector to take in the impact of subsidies for renewables, the challenges of connecting distributed generation and the roll out of smart meters. We explored the very real risk of damage that all of these policies could have on consumers' trust and confidence in our industry. The need for a joined-up approach to all of this was also highlighted through the government's decision to cre- ate the National Infrastructure Commission and the appoint- ment of Lord Adonis – both positive contributions to the ongoing approach to realising the vital role of our infrastruc- ture and its impact on the public, our customers. Utility Week's positioning paper recognises the impor- tant challenges our sector faces through new technology, the demands on our exist- ing infrastructure, what that means for our workforce and why long-term certainty is important for investment and future-proofing our assets. These alone are policy impacts that we must seek to inform and deal with. They do not, however, sit in isola- tion, and the true impact we need to consider is that of the customer, the value for money they get and the service they receive. We were delighted to hear from energy ombuds- men Lewis Shand Smith that the networks have taken the principle-based regulation around customer service to their heart and transformed their businesses. Basil Scarsella, our chair- man and the chief executive of UK Power Networks, spoke about the near 90 per cent satisfaction customers have with their network company and Steve Johnson, chief executive of Electricity North West, said that his company treats its customers as if they were competing for their busi- ness every day. The success of the networks, Shand-Smith said, would put him out of a job if it was replicated across the industry. It is an approach to customer service that our members are proud to be driving. ENA director of policy Tony Glover Talking points Tony Glover, ENA Policy & Regulation T he final stop on the party conference tour saw Utility Week arrive in Aber- deen for the SNP conference to a room packed with party members. The focus, somewhat aptly on a chilly day, was on the issue of how energy compa- nies can, and should, help those in fuel pov- erty, including prepayment meter customers. A question from the audience asked how the smart meter rollout, with its focus on prepayment, should be made to benefit vul- nerable consumers, and energy ombudsman Lewis Shand Smith said the energy sector should use the tools at its disposal to improve the service for vulnerable customers. He added that the UK should look to rep- licate a European model where, if a prepay- ment customer self-disconnects, a message is sent form the meter to the supplier, who notifies social services, who in turn is able to check on the customer. "This is not proposed in the UK at the moment but enormous potential to do something like this exists in the UK," he said. ENA director of policy Tony Glover added that smart meters would provide distribution companies with visibility of their network, allowing them to see if and when a customer has been disconnected, or self-disconnected. They could then cross-reference this with a priority customer register and ensure the "necessary action" was taken to. SNP MP Phil Boswell went further and said that with the smart meter rollout, vul- nerable customers – who make up a large percentage of those with prepayment meters – should be able to benefit from improved tariffs rather than paying more, as they cur- rently do. "The prepayment tariffs for low earners has to be looked at because that on its own is enough to push people over the edge," he said. Consumer Futures Scotland manager Sarah Beattie-Smith, sitting in on the ses- sion, questioned whether different types of ownership structures would help to restore trust and confidence in the energy sector. Shand Smith said there were "huge and exciting possibilities" for new ownership structures, such as Nottingham City Coun- cil's Robin Hood Energy, and he said the growth in independent suppliers "shows customers are willing to trust new, smaller suppliers". Boswell echoed this point, and said there was a range of structures that could be developed, such as community suppliers, council-run organisations, or even "hybrid" companies. SNP: help for prepay "Trust is critical – if we have a problem people don't have power." ENA director of policy Tony Glover "Smart meters – smart in whose favour?" Philip Boswell MP "With prin- ciple-based regulation, there is a change in culture and companies start to behave in a completely different way." Energy ombudsman Lewis Shand Smith The networks are proud to be leading the way on customer service.

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