Utility Week

Utility Week 22nd September 2017

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Customers UTILITY WEEK | 22ND - 28TH SEPTEMBER 2017 | 27 An influential think tank has said councils and other local groups, rather than utilities, should distribute energy efficiency funding. The le of centre Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) North has called for a revamp of the Energy Company Obligation (Eco) scheme under which larger energy companies are obliged to provide energy efficiency meas- ENERGY Think tank: councils should take charge of distributing Eco funds ures, such as double glazing and insulation, for low-income and vulnerable households. The IPPR North said take-up of Eco has been lower than predicted because suppliers lack incentives to cut their customers' energy use. The think tank has recommended the funding should instead be handed to councils and other local groups, such as co-operatives and local companies, which could com- mission the improvement work. Channelling the funding through grassroots groups rather than energy companies would also keep more money in the local economy. In addition, IPPR North said, groups with stronger local links would be more effec- tive at signing up people. The proposal is one of a num- ber to be outlined in a northern This week Water firms urged to help vulnerable more CCWater reveals the number of households receiving help has almost doubled in the past year The Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) has urged utility firms to reach "into their own pockets" and further increase the amount of support for low-income households. In a report published on 13 September, the watchdog revealed the number of homes in England and Wales receiving financial help from their water company has almost doubled to more than 400,000 in the past year. According to the report, more than 260,500 low- income households have seen their water and sewerage charges cut through social tariffs. A further 141,000 homes have also registered for the industry's WaterSure scheme, which caps the bills of those on low incomes. But the watchdog is concerned that ongoing financial help with water bills is only available to around one in five customers who need it. It has called on the industry to do more to promote social tariffs and find more money to support them. "Water companies have taken big strides towards helping more customers in financial hardship, but it's still only scratching the surface," said senior policy manager Andy White. "No-one should have to struggle to afford something that is so essential for them to live a healthy life… Water companies have the power to change this by dipping into their own pockets to increase the amount of support on offer." Water UK chief executive Michael Roberts said: "Although water bills usually cost households just over £1 a day we know that many people can struggle to pay. As the report acknowledges, we are on track to deliver financial support to an additional one million people by 2020." JH ENERGY New ombudsman eyes energy market A new ombudsman has asked Ofgem to authorise it to deliver dispute resolution services for the energy retail market, accord- ing to a national press report. A story in the Telegraph last weekend claimed Consumer Dispute Retail Limited (CDRL) approached the regulator ahead of a "public consultation" on the provision of consumer dispute resolution services in the sector. If CDRL succeeds in gain- ing Ofgem's permission, it will compete with incumbent energy ombudsman, Ombudsman Services, to resolve issues for disgruntled consumers. Ombuds- man Services is currently the only formal dispute resolution pro- vider for the energy retail market as, under Ombudsman Associa- tion rules, only one provider is allowed to operate per sector. CDRL, however, split from the Ombudsman Association in July this year in order to pursue its frustrated ambitions to expand its retail ombudsman offering. Ofgem said it could not com- ment on "speculation around submissions for dispute resolu- tion schemes". The regulator also declined to confirm that a consul- tation on the matter is planned. ENERGY Millions more want action over prices Three million more people want to see the government take action on rising energy prices since the general election. New research by consumer champion Which? showed more than half of those surveyed (56 per cent) considered energy prices a key priority for govern- ment, a 5 percentage point increase since April. Among the 25- to 34-year-old age group, there was a 14 per- centage point rise, from 33 per cent in April to 47 per cent in September. Consumers aged 45 to 54 see energy prices as the biggest issue, with 63 per cent saying the government should make it a key priority, up from 54 per cent before the election. ENERGY Suppliers not trying to retain switchers Nearly half of all customers who switch energy suppliers say their previous supplier made no effort to retain their business. Research by customer contact centre specialist Echo Managed Services found that 40 per cent of customers said they were allowed to leave without a fight. However, the research also found that 14 per cent of those thinking of switching had been convinced to stay with their old supplier, suggesting that com- panies could be missing out on millions of pounds of revenue by allowing customers to leave. Promises of better services or financial benefits were among the reasons consumers were con- vinced not to change supplier. Need more: call to boost social tariff promotion energy strategy, to be published by IPPR North next month. It said increased deployment of energy efficiency measures would more effectively curb bills than Ofgem's proposed price cap for vulnerable customers. Ed Cox, director of IPPR North, said: "Putting energy companies in charge of cutting bills is like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse."

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