It seems that some utility companies still can`t get into their corporate heads that it is only under very limited circumstances that they can switch off the gas or electricity to a domestic property. I have posted here more than once on warrants of entry and indeed that subject is the source of very many page views to this blog.
Recently for the first time this year I sat in such an applications court and the representative of a major utilities supplier presented us with two dozen warrants of entry the wording of which subsequent to the stated intention of fitting pre-payment meters was that the company retained an alternative of cutting off supply. This was of course after his repetition of the “human rights” mantra including words to the effect that the company would not disconnect. Usually the applicant will state in open court that any households with a vulnerable* person will not be amongst the applications. Despite some initial observations from our L/A we scored through the offending words re disconnection, initialled at the side and then signed off the warrants.
There is no doubt in my mind that including in the warrant words as above is no more than a threatening posture. Such actions will only cease if all colleagues take a similar forensic action and closely question such applications according to the Good Practice Guide.
Industry Vulnerable Customer Safety Net
In September 2004 the Energy Retail Association (ERA), the dedicated trade association for the six major UK energy suppliers, published a report on the issues of debt and disconnection in the energy sector following a challenge from Ofgem to industry to develop measures to protect vulnerable customers from being disconnected. This report presented the definition of a vulnerable customer which member companies will seek to abide by, that “a customer is vulnerable if for reasons of age, health, disability or severe financial insecurity they are unable to safeguard their personal welfare or the personal welfare of other members of the household.”
References to ‘customer’ in the Standard Licence Conditions refer to the bill payer. The ERA has stated that industry’s intention is to protect all those who are vulnerable and at risk from disconnection, which has prompted the inclusion in its definition of vulnerability that the bill payer must also be able to safeguard the welfare of other members of the household.
In order to ensure that genuinely vulnerable customers are not excluded from the definition the ERA has also produced guidance to suppliers on identifying vulnerability, noting five separate circumstances which, if applicable, could lead to energy suppliers determining that the customer is vulnerable. These are:
1. A customer is caring for an elderly person in the household;
2. A permanent member of the household is disabled and unable to support themselves or has a long-term medical condition;
3. A carer, social worker, health visitor or physician has indicated that a member of the household may be vulnerable;
4. Households on a low income/state benefit with young children; or
5. A customer dependent on medical equipment that is operated by electricity e.g. a stair lift, electric wheelchair, defibrillator or dialysis machine.