In response to the unprecedented increase in wholesale gas prices, and the knock-on impact this has had on the cost of living, Heat Trust decided to undertake a compliance project to check that  heat suppliers were providing adequate support to customers in financial difficulty.

A questionnaire was sent to heat suppliers in February 2022 and responses were scored. The attached report summarises the results from the compliance assessment and goes on to suggest best practice in this important area of operational activity.

The questionnaire focused on heat supplier performance against three high level areas
Outcome 1: heat suppliers have processes and systems in place to identify customers in need of additional support
Outcome 2: heat suppliers have support mechanisms in place that are clearly communicated to customers, easily accessed and tailored to their needs
Outcome 3: heat suppliers have processes in place to review, monitor and improve their provision of customer service and support based on the collection of feedback from their customers.

It found the majority of heat suppliers were generally compliant with the Heat Trust scheme rules in this area and, in some cases, went beyond the requirements and demonstrated strong support for customers that are struggling financially.

Best Practice
The report, Supporting Customers in Financial Difficulty, A Heat Trust Report, July 2022, summarises some operational activity that Heat Trust believes represents best practice under each of these categories. For example, heat suppliers (including housing associations and councils) should have well developed IT systems, and associated processes, that allow all customer facing staff to keep records relating to customer support needs and preferences up to date. These processes should be backed up by strong staff training programmes and proactive consumption monitoring. Additionally, communication with customers should be proactive, timely, relevant and tailored to the customer’s preferences and needs. Effective communication at an early stage in financial difficulty can improve customer engagement and outcomes.

Finally, heat suppliers should have strong processes in place to deal with feedback and complaints. These processes should be focused on using this valuable source of information to review and update customer service and support mechanisms. Reviews should be frequent and acknowledge that customer needs may evolve over time.

Underpinning all best practice is strong sponsorship from a senior level within the company. Recognition that these activities and processes are key to achieving good customer outcomes, and are consequently given appropriate levels of resource, is key to successful outcomes.

Although this report focuses on the performance of heat suppliers registered with Heat Trust, the advice on best practice will be helpful for all heat suppliers, including landlords who act at energy suppliers.

It will enable them to review their processes and prepare to support their customers during the next winter period.

It is also likely that Ofgem will have a strong focus on customer service and support when the industry is formally regulated in the next couple of years, so adoption of best practice now will be excellent preparation for the future.
Heat Trust is urging landlords to “Be Regulation Ready!”