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Western Power Distribution fined for customer failings

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Western Power Distribution failed to notify vulnerable energy customers about power cuts. Photo: Getty
Western Power Distribution failed to notify vulnerable energy customers about power cuts. Photo: Getty

Energy distributor Western Power Distribution (WPD), will make a voluntary redress payment of £14.9m ($18.6m) after failing to provide necessary information to some of its most vulnerable customers.

Britain's largest electricity distribution network operator has agreed to pay £3.7m for each of the four licences it operates across the UK after failing to provide information, advice and services to customers on its Priority Services Register (PSR).

The PSR details vulnerable customers who would find a loss of electricity supply particularly difficult. There are around 6 million customers registered for priority assistance across the country.

WPD has around 1.7 million customers on its PSR.

Network companies are required to provide additional services to these vulnerable households including providing prompt information and advice during unplanned power cuts.

This helps these customers to take any additional steps needed to keep themselves safe and access any extra assistance from network companies. Assistance could include mobile power generators, hot meals and drinks, alternative accommodation and on-site welfare units.

Read more: Energy bills: Ofgem launches review of firms hiking direct debits

Ofgem began looking into WPD’s compliance with its PSR obligations in 2020 and found that the distributor "failed to promptly notify and update some of those affected on the register by power cuts about when power would be restored and what assistance was available".

WPD also failed to quickly provide specific information on how to prepare for power cuts for the majority of newly customers added to its PSR.

Some vulnerable customers were found to have waited up to a year after they signed up for the information to be provided, making it harder for them to plan ahead to make sure they had what they needed and were able to access the available assistance in case of a power cut.

The issue was found to have occurred over a period of five years.

Ofgem also found that WPD failed to ensure all staff visiting the homes of customers, including those in vulnerable circumstances, had the required background checks, in particular DBS checks.

The voluntary payment of £14.9m will go to Ofgem’s Redress Fund which is operated on its behalf by the Energy Saving Trust and allows companies to pay a sum of money to appropriate charities, trusts, organisations or consumers as a result of breaches of licence conditions.

Read more: UK households face £271 rise in food bills

Cathryn Scott, director of enforcement and emerging issues at Ofgem, said: “WPD did not meet all of its obligations to provide additional support to some of its most vulnerable customers to safeguard their well-being. In our view it also took too long to put this right. This is totally unacceptable.

“Our enforcement against the company sends a strong message that when companies fail to provide the required services to their Priority Services Register customers, Ofgem will take action.”

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