Ofgem told all 17 firms in its review to improve and identified “severe weaknesses” at Good Energy, Outfox, SO Energy, Tru Energy and Utilita.
Failings included customers missing out on free gas safety checks, setting repayments so high that customers could not top up their pre-payment meters, and vulnerable customers not being offered the support they need.
It also found that some vulnerable customers were unable to contact their supplier to top up their meter or to request support credit.
The firms had told Ofgem how they identify and keep a record of which customers are in a vulnerable situation and whether they add them to a priority register.
Severe weaknesses mean Ofgem “either found that a significant proportion of the supplier’s processes and policies were missing or inadequate, or their data indicated that they are not achieving good consumer outcomes”.
Ofgem’s director of Retail Neil Lawrence said that “most suppliers” take their responsibility to protect vulnerable customers seriously and that they have launched many new initiatives. But despite some improvement, he said: “We’ve seen a number of failings across the board which need to be urgently addressed.
“It’s going to be a very challenging winter for everyone and customers must be confident they are getting the help and support they need. My message to suppliers today is simple – be proactive. Help your customers to know what support is available, and then deliver it.”
The report also found “moderate weaknesses” at suppliers E (Gas & Electricity), Ecotricity, Green Energy UK, Octopus and Shell. It said that seven others had shown minor weaknesses, which included British Gas, Bulb, EDF, E.ON, Ovo, Scottish Power and Utility Warehouse.
Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, said: “It’s hugely concerning to see Ofgem has found that so many energy firms are falling short on the support they provide to their most vulnerable customers.
“Energy firms must urgently up their game and do everything they can to support their customers through this crisis, especially those most in need.”
‘Suppliers are making improvements’
Ofgem said suppliers have engaged positively with the process and, since receiving their indicative ratings in October, are taking swift action to make the improvements needed.
Simon Oscroft, co-founder of So Energy, said: “Over the course of the last months and weeks, we have provided Ofgem with extensive additional information related to this review and we are disappointed that Ofgem has proceeded on the basis of incomplete information, and in a manner that may now cause vulnerable customers unnecessary concern.
“For the avoidance of doubt, So Energy has never switched a smart meter-equipped customer from credit to prepay without their knowledge and consent, and has an approach to customer vulnerability that is in line with our caring and honest values.”
Meanwhile, Utilita said that Ofgem’s report “does not represent where we are as a business today, nor does it acknowledge the significant progress we have made – and are making – since its initial assessment in early summer.”