Coronavirus Energy FAQs

The outbreak of Coronavirus has turned the world upside down, affecting every industry in different ways. The energy market is no different. Find out what it means for you with these Covid-19 Energy FAQs.

Could coronavirus impact the supply of energy?

No. It will certainly disrupt how energy suppliers go about their day-to-day business including putting in place their contingency plans and working from home practises. But that, in itself, will not disrupt the supply of gas and electricity to your home. That remains unchanged. Indeed, staff needed for the oil, gas, electricity and water sectors are included in the governments list of critical sectors.

What is the Government doing?

Government has agreed new emergency measures with the energy industry to protect the domestic energy supply of those most in need during the disruption caused by COVID-19.

From 19 March 2020 customers with pre-payment meters who may not be able to add credit can speak to their supplier about options to keep them supplied. This might include some or all of the following:

  • nominating someone else to get credit top ups for you
  • having funds added to your meter
  • being sent a pre-loaded top up card so that your supply is not interrupted.

Any energy customer in financial distress will also be supported by their supplier. Measures might include:

  • Re-assessing debt repayments and bill payments
  • Reducing or pausing bill payments where necessary

But importantly, disconnection of credit meters has been completely suspended during the crisis, so no one needs to worry about getting cut off.

What has Ofgem said?

In a blog, new Ofgem CEO Jonathan Brearley Ofgem made the following points;

  • Ofgem and the industry's priority is to maintain a secure and reliable service and to protect customers and those who work in the (energy) industry.
  • Energy supply companies are expected to prioritise customer and staff safety.
  • Compliance will take a back-seat in relative to the protection of customers and security of supply. What that means is that energy suppliers will have more wiggle room within the very tight licensing rules to ensure priorities are delivered at the expense of less important tasks (like customer service for example).

I have a prepayment meter and need to top up my card / token? Can I leave the house to do this?

Yes, you can. The current rules, announced by the government on 23rd March, allow you to only leave your house for very limited purposes. This includes shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible. Topping up energy is included within those basic necessities. Many of the outlets that have top up facilities - post offices, newsagents and local 'corner' shops - are still open because they are classed as essential businesses. However. this can and will change so might have to travel further than you normally would.

I have a prepayment meter. I am self-isolating and can't get to a shop to top up my meter. How can I ensure that my energy supply does not run out?

Get in touch with your energy supplier as soon as you can. Phone lines are likely to be busy so use online chat where available. There are a number of options you can discuss. If it is about getting your card topped up (as opposed to not being able to afford to pay to top up your energy card) then you can ask to have a card pre-loaded with credit to be posted to you. Alternatively, you could ask to have the emergency credit limit on your meter increased. Or you could ask a friend or neighbour to top up your card or token for you.

I have a smart prepayment meter. How will I be affected?

You can continue to top up your meter online or via the supplier's mobile app (where available). As such you should not be affected.

I've just lost my job and will struggle to pay my energy bill? What should I do?

Firstly, if you have a credit meter, don't worry about getting cut off. During the epidemic disconnection of credit meters has been completely suspended. In addition, a package of support measures has been agreed to help customers who are struggling with energy costs because of coronavirus. The support measures might include some or all of the following:

  • reviewing bill payment plans, or debt repayment plans
  • payment breaks or reductions in how much you pay
  • giving you greater time to pay
  • in some cases, access to hardship funds

Please note that with these measures, payment for the energy that you use will still be due but you will be given longer time in which to make the repayment.

These measures relate to energy only. The government is also providing a range of financial and employment support for individuals and businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic. You can find more information at https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus

What should I do if I have an energy emergency?

Energy emergencies cover such things as gas leaks and power cuts.

If you have a power cut

Telephone: 105 (a free phone number) or Visit powercut105.com

If you require assistance in the case of a gas emergency, please dial 0800 111 999.

If you have a non-urgent issue, it's best that you check out your energy supplier's online resources first to avoid clogging up thinly staffed call centres.

I'm stuck working from home / self-isolating. How much more am I going to have to spend on energy?

That's a tough one. Clearly it depends on how long you keep the heating on and what devices you use while you're stuck at home. We've seen estimates that household energy usage could increase by 20-25% during lockdown / isolation. We wouldn't disagree with that. For a typical household on a standard tariff that will increase the annual bill by around £200 a year.

Can I still get a smart meter installed?

Under current government advice (as at 29 Mar 2020), energy suppliers can still install smart meters. However most, if not all, have suspended their smart meter rollout program. In the circumstances it isn't the most pressing priority.

How will energy suppliers be affected?

Energy suppliers are within the governments definition of a critical sector. None will be forced to close although there will be the inevitable disruption of moving to remote working and coping with staff absences due to sickness.

Energy suppliers will need to focus their efforts on ensuring that the emergency measures agreed with government are put in place. While this would require additional resource in normal circumstances, in this case it means re-arranging priorities and doing less with fewer resources.

Ofgem has already said that it will take into consideration potential failings in certain license areas if this is due to the energy suppliers focussing on their delivering priorities of providing a secure and reliable service and protecting customers and employees.

An increase in bad debts seems inevitable and we will need to see whether this is sufficient to put certain weaker companies into financial difficulties.

How have energy suppliers responded?

The response will vary from supplier to supplier. In general, what we are seeing is the following;

Energy switching services are continuing as normal

Routine appointments such as annual service visits (for boilers), smart meter installations, or meter read appointments are being postponed or cancelled.

Call centres are generally still working for the larger suppliers but many at significantly reduced capacity.

Medically vulnerable customers with non-smart prepayment meters are being prioritised to see what support they might require.

Available resources are being focussed on emergencies and on vulnerable customers, particularly the medically vulnerable.

Some energy suppliers are increasing the emergency credit for customers on standard (non-smart) prepayment meters.

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