Ensuring access to energy supplies
The energy regulator Ofgem has announced an emergency package of measures designed to ensure vulnerable people do not face any additional hardships in heating or lighting their homes during the crisis. They urge that customers to alert their energy supplier if they or someone they know is vulnerable, of pensionable age, has children under 5, a disability or long-term medical condition, so they can be added to the Priority Services Register.
Customers who need extra help with an energy problem, including with bills or meters are advised to contact Citizens Advice.
Prepayment meters customers who are unable to top up their meter are advised to tell their supplier straightaway.
Paypoint.com and Payzone.co.uk have published a list of alternative vendors online.
The Post Office provides top ups for some suppliers.
Smart meter customers should be able to top-up remotely, such as by phone, mobile application or online.
Customers with prepayment meters who are self-isolating or unable to leave their home should be offered other options by their supplier, such as:
- Sending someone out to top up the prepayment card or token.
- Adding funds to the customer’s meter credit.
- Sending the customer a preloaded gas or electricity card in the post.
- Ensuring that no credit meters are disconnected during the outbreak.
Keeping telecoms consumers connected
The telecoms and broadcasting regulator Ofcom’s has announced a series of initiatives designed to help ‘stay at home’ consumers keep connected.
Its Stay Connected campaign offers practical tips include using landlines rather than mobiles to make calls and various ways to lower demands on Internet connections.
It has published consumer guides with simple, practical steps to take to make sure both broadband and mobile phones work well at home.
BT, including its Openreach and EE divisions; Virgin Media; Sky; TalkTalk; O2; Vodafone; Three; Hyperoptic; Gigaclear; and Kcom. have a signed up to a package of government measures to help consumers including removing data caps on fixed-line broadband, offering “generous new mobile and landline packages,” and “fair and appropriate” support to customers who have trouble paying their bills.
BT Video on network resilience aimed at people working from home.
Protecting consumers from scam calls and texts
Ofcom guidance on scams:
Report potential scams to Action Fraud
Protecting vulnerable water consumers
The Consumer Council for Water expects water companies to protect vulnerable customers.
“ Water companies should be exhausting the wide range of options they have at their disposal to help consumers whose finances and daily lives will be impacted by the virus. That should include offering support through payment breaks for those whose incomes have been temporarily impacted and flexibility over payment timings and methods for people who normally pay their bill in person but are having to self-isolate. We’d urge anyone who is worried about paying their bill or accessing services to immediately get in contact with their supplier and ask for help, rather than suffering in silence. ”
Treating finance consumers fairly
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) guidance: to financial services providers on how they treat consumers during the Coronavirus crisis.
- Mortgages: fca.org.uk/consumers/mortgages-coronavirus-consumers
- Insurance: fca.org.uk/consumers/insurance-and-coronavirus
Access to Access to cash
The FCA is working with the Bank of England and the Payment Systems Regulator, along with Link, to ensure consumers have access to cash through the wide range of ATM networks.
Support for consumers from banks and finance providers
UK Finance guidance : www.ukfinance.org.uk including:
From 1 April the spending limit for contactless card payments will be increased from £30 to £45.
Money and Debt Advice
The Money Advice Trust and StepChange Debt Charity have highlighted an expected surge in debt problems in the wake of the widespread economic and social disruption caused by Covid-19. They are calling for:
- an immediate package of financial help to households, with a pause to all debt collection, including benefit deductions and bailiff visits to those who cannot afford payments as a result.
- additional funding to support the UK’s debt advice agencies to cover the cost of adapting their services in the short-term, to continue services during this period, and to serve increased demand in the longer term.
The Money Advice Trust has published new factsheets:
- National Debtline: nationaldebtline.org/EW/factsheets/Pages/coronavirus-advice-and-support/help-and-advice.aspx
- Business Debtline:
Broadband universal service goes live
As from 20 March 2020, the Government’s broadband universal service scheme gives eligible homes and businesses the legal right to request an upgraded connection if they are unable to get a download speed of 10 Mbit/s and an upload speed of 1 Mbit/s. BT is responsible for connecting properties, and KCOM the Hull area. Ofcom advises consumers to avoid calling BT and KCOM with their requests if possible, given their resources will be extremely stretched due to the Coronavirus.
A home or business is eligible for a universal service connection if it:
- has no access to decent broadband; and
- is not due to be connected by a publicly-funded scheme in the next 12 months.
(Edited from information supplied by the Essential Services Access Network, formerly Public Utilities Access Forum, which I was Secretary of in the 1990s.)