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Incoherent Codes of Practice: Energy Companies

The advice in this article is current at 08/04/2013.

Energy suppliers’ codes of practice are difficult to wade through at the best of times. But when you feel that your parent isn’t receiving the necessary help with their energy bills and you want to find that particular section on customer care it can be difficult to see the wood for the trees, we’re here to help.

We’ve taken a fine toothcomb to codes of practice of the top two energy suppliers – British Gas and SSE – to find the relevant sections that apply to you and your parent. Each supplier details the special services they provide for elderly and vulnerable customers.

British Gas

Looking after accounts. British Gas’ Priority Services Register (PSR) offers “specially designed appliance controls and adaptors” for the elderly as well as “priority attention for any general enquiries”. The company also operates a Nominee Scheme so that you, a friend or neighbour, can look after the bills on your parent’s behalf. Informing British Gas that your parent is “over 60, has a disability or long-term illness” ensures that if your parent has trouble paying their energy bill they’ll “be exempt from disconnection in winter”. If your parent belongs to one of these categories they’re also entitled to a free benefit assessment and gas-safety check from British Gas.

Caring for customers. In its (Standard Tariff) Terms and Conditions British Gas stipulates that if “you (or a member of your household) need extra care (for example, because of your age, health, disability or financial circumstances)” it may share your information with “social services charities, healthcare and other support organisations” to help “by making sure there is a gas or electricity supply to your home” (10.7). This is a positive step for cross-sector communication in a bid to put customer care first which means your parent should be looked after, on referral, by the relevant organisation.

SSE

Extra services for the elderly. SSE also has similar Codes of Practice in place to help protect its elderly customers. Section 8 of SSE’s code of practice entitled ‘Special Services’ outlines the range of extra services your parent could receive if registered with its Careline (0800 980 1387). If you parent is on the Careline Register they’re eligible for “additional contact in the event of service disruption”, “easy-to-read bills” as well as a “talking summary bill service” intended for those who have trouble reading their paper bills. They can also request “correspondence in Braille” to boot.

Other extras the Careline offers include sending your parent’s bill to a friend or relative directly, arranging a password to protect them from bogus callers and a “knock and wait service” should your parent find it difficult to answer the door quickly.

Priority for energy. SSE’s Careline runs alongside its Priority Service Register (0800 622 838) which ensures that your parent’s local network operator is aware of their reliance on their energy supply whether there’s a cold spell or electricity is needed to run their medical equipment. Your parent may qualify for the WaterSure tariff for vulnerable customers who use large amounts of water if they are receiving certain government benefits such as housing benefit or state pension credit or have a particular medical condition.

Help to keep warm and dry. If you’re worried that your parent isn’t keeping warm in their home SSE advises you to call immediately on 0800 300 111 and the company “will do everything [it] can to help”. It also states in its code of practice, under ‘Leaks’ (Section 5), that it will “help customers look after their own pipes” by offering a free “external leak detection and leak repair or pipe replacement scheme”.

Compensation. If SSE fails to meet the customer care standards set out in its Customer Service Guarantee it has promised to pay its customers £20 for each of the five commitments it breaks. Your parent can email to claim. SSE’s Our Promises to You outlines every claim for compensation you can make should supply interruptions, amongst other things, negatively impact your parent’s daily routine. If you or your parent wishes to make a claim you can find the specific details of your entitlements and the company’s stipulations in SSE’s Guaranteed Standards Scheme.

Quick points to look out for:

  • Easy ways for relatives or neighbours to manage accounts
  • Stopping unwanted visits
  • Protecting parents on the doorstep
  • Energy priority for the elderly
  • Free advice and help on utility issues
  • Trained staff able to communicate with the elderly
  • Compensation deals

Hopefully the snippets of information we’ve provided here will help you navigate the codes of practice and equally the terms and conditions set up by your parent’s energy supplier with greater ease. Although time-consuming it can be well worth researching what services different energy companies offer for their elderly customers as well as the benefits your parent could be entitled to that may help them pay their energy bills.

Should you wish to contact your energy supplier about anything we’ve discussed here we’ve come up with an Energy company contact details table that you can download from our Free Stuff.

Have you had problems getting help with your parent’s energy bills? Do you find it difficult to organise payments on your parent’s behalf? Let us know with a comment below.

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