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Utility Warehouse agrees to pay £1.5m for failings around customers in debt

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Energy supplier Utility Warehouse has agreed to pay £1.5 million for failing to treat some customers fairly and not supporting those facing hardship.

Regulator Ofgem said the firm had accepted it had failed to consistently offer customers services such as debt repayment plans and energy efficiency advice between 2013 and 2019.

The failures had left some customers disadvantaged and facing increased financial hardship.

Utility Warehouse will pay the £1.5 million to the regulator’s voluntary redress fund, which supports vulnerable customers.

Ofgem said it became aware of the failings following an audit report in 2018.

A formal investigation found the firm did not consistently offer to put domestic customers struggling to pay their energy bills on debt repayment plans, to allow payments to be taken direct from customers’ benefits or to take into account customers’ ability to pay when calculating regular instalments, as required.

Customers were not consistently offered the option of paying back charges via the voluntary installation of a pre-payment meter or offered energy efficiency advice on how to reduce their bills.

In some cases, this led to the unnecessary installation of pre-payment meters under warrant.

During the course of the investigation, Utility Warehouse also said it submitted some inaccurate Social Obligation Reporting (SOR) data to Ofgem between 2013 and 2019.

The data allows Ofgem to review suppliers’ performance regarding their social obligations and compliance with licence requirements, challenge poor performance and inform policy decisions.

Ofgem said it had now closed the investigation after deciding that Utility Warehouse had accepted its failings and put in place measures to prevent them from happening again.

Ofgem director of enforcement and emerging issues, Cathryn Scott, said: “Energy suppliers are required to look after their customers, especially those in vulnerable situations.

“Between 2013-2019, Utility Warehouse failed to take the necessary steps to treat some customers in payment difficulty fairly, depriving them of the opportunity to manage their energy debt and ongoing energy costs.

“While the unprecedented and unexpected rise in gas and electricity prices over recent months has put energy markets under severe strain, we expect suppliers to continue to comply with their licence obligations and treat people fairly, including by providing support to vulnerable consumers.

“Where we see poor behaviour, Ofgem will be ready to step in and take swift action.”

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