New research has found severely low levels of awareness about the support systems available to utility customers who find themselves in circumstances of vulnerability
Key amongst the report findings was that if respondents were to find themselves in circumstances of vulnerability, and this overlapped with affordability – meaning it was hard to pay their water, gas or electricity charges – very few would be aware of the range of schemes available to help them.
Just 22% were aware that they could gain access to special discounted tariffs if they fell behind on payments, whilst 31% knew of the warm home scheme. 28% were aware that their utilities company could signpost them to free debt advice whilst just one in four knew of measures to protect vulnerable customers against supply disconnection.
Monica Mackintosh, customer services director at Echo Managed Services, said: “Evidently, investing in support schemes and training frontline staff to recognise vulnerability isn’t enough; providers need to more actively promote the range of services they offer, so that their wider customer base is aware that support is available should they – or a relative or friend – ever need it. As reputation and trust become more intrinsically linked to brand value, community support must never just be a ‘box-ticking’ exercise, but a concrete social consideration.”
The report also highlighted that instances of debt are on the rise; 70% of people have experienced debt recovery procedures with at least one everyday service provider – a 7% increase in just 18 months.
More than half (53%) of these people did not think their service provider provided enough support to prevent them from falling into arrears in the first place. Many cited reasons such as inflexible payment options, poor communication and a general lack of understanding and empathy as key examples of this lack of support.
Monica continued: “It’s concerning to find that many customers believe their debt was preventable, had their provider given them sufficient support – whether that be greater empathy, improved communication, more affordable bills or increased payment flexibility.
“In today’s tough economic climate, it’s important that companies work closely with all customers and support them where they can; truly putting customer needs at the heart of their debt and revenue protection strategies.”