UK electricity distribution network penalised over customer treatment

Western Power Distribution, which owns Britain’s largest electricity distribution network, has agreed to pay a penalty after it was found to have let down vulnerable customers on a number of “totally unacceptable” fronts.

Energy regulator Ofgem announced the £14.9mn settlement on Wednesday after a lengthy probe launched in 2020 into whether the company had been meeting its obligations towards its 1.7mn customers considered to be in “vulnerable circumstances”.

The UK’s National Grid group last year acquired WPD from the US utility PPL Corporation in a deal valued at £14.2bn. The group is responsible for the electricity distribution networks that deliver power to homes and businesses in south Wales, the south-west of England and the Midlands.

Households pay towards the costs of running gas and power networks via a surcharge on their energy bills, which typically amounts to around a fifth of the total.

WPD agreed the settlement with Ofgem at a time when energy companies are under intense scrutiny as households bills soar.

WPD did not verify that staff had sufficient checks, including Disclosure and Barring Service checks, before visiting customers’ homes, including those in vulnerable circumstances, Ofgem said.

The regulator also found WPD had not met all of its obligations to provide additional services to households on its “priority services registers” to “safeguard their wellbeing”.

Pensioners, people with disabilities or long-term medical conditions and families with young children are among those included on priority registers, which ensure those customers receive prompt information and advice during unplanned power cuts. They may also be eligible for additional assistance such as mobile generators, hot food and drink, and alternative accommodation.

Cathryn Scott, director of enforcement and emerging issues at Ofgem, called the breaches, which occurred over a period of five years, “totally unacceptable”.

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