Coronavirus: information and updates

Coronavirus, energy suppliers and disabled people

This report gives a snapshot of disabled people’s experience with utilities during the coronavirus pandemic.

It looks at:

  • costs and affordability
  • the effect of these on disabled people’s lives

Through this report we intend to highlight the issues facing disabled people and make suggestions for improvement.

Effect of lockdown and the pandemic

Disabled people have been hit hardest by the current pandemic. 83% of disabled people are worried about the impact that coronavirus is having on their life. 82% of disabled people have seen their costs increase during the pandemic.

We have heard from many disabled people who are increasingly struggling to afford to pay their energy bills.

Findings from our research

Our research has highlighted some important concerns around disabled people and their energy usage and costs.

  • 86% have had no contact with their energy supplier regarding concerns about bills.
  • 54% say their energy usage has increased.
  • 45% say their energy bills have increased since the pandemic began.
  • 34% say that energy costs and energy usage have caused them concern or worry during the pandemic.
  • 29% are concerned about affording their energy bill in the next few months.
  • 28% say their financial situation has worsened.

Measures taken by disabled people

We also found worrying examples of the measures disabled people are taking to reduce their energy costs, including:

  • skipping meals
  • living in one room
  • wearing extra layers

Support from suppliers

When suppliers offer support to their disabled customers, it is a huge benefit to those customers. But this does not happen enough. Too often disabled people feel forgotten or misunderstood.

Recommendations for suppliers

Based on the findings from our research, we would make the following recommendations.

Proactively identify disabled customers

Suppliers should identify their disabled customers so that they can offer support when it is needed. Our research shows that many disabled people will not contact their supplier, even when they are struggling.

Improve understanding of disabled customer’s needs

Many disabled people we surveyed felt that suppliers were not aware of or understood their situation. Better information would help suppliers identify and support struggling disabled people. Using smart meter data for insight and asking the right questions, would help suppliers successfully support those in need.

Improve customer service towards disabled people

Customer service from suppliers needs to be more empathetic towards disabled people’s personal and financial situation.

This could include:

  • checking accessibility requirements of customers
  • asking about preferred types of communication
  • improving waiting times
  • contacting customers with tips and advice more regularly

Increase the range of financial support and advice

This would help disabled customers to pay their bills and could include assistance like:

  • applying for Warm Home Discount
  • payment plans and holidays
  • tariff switching
  • energy saving and reducing cost
  • Fuel Direct
  • debt advice

Exemptions or reductions in charges for energy use

This would apply to disabled people that are using more energy because of their impairment or condition. This may be because they require more heating or must charge specialist equipment.

Partner with disability charities and disabled people’s organisations

We understand that suppliers are under pressure and cannot be expected to provide all types of support needed, like maximising income and debt advice. Specialist charities and organisation can help.

Extra costs: what we already know

Our extra costs research has told us disabled people use more energy than non-disabled people and face higher energy bills.

Read Out in the Cold

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