The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute has published a practical guide to help energy firms support vulnerable customers struggling to pay their energy bills.
With millions of customers at risk of falling behind on energy payments due to soaring prices, the charity is calling on firms to act urgently to reduce the strain that people are facing.
The new guidance provides practical, tangible steps firms can take to help customers struggling with their mental health and finances, by minimising the distress caused by missed payments and debt.
Money and Mental Health’s research showed that people with mental health problems were four times more likely to be behind on energy bills going into the energy crisis. In a survey of nearly 300 people with mental health problems about the impact of increased energy bills, the charity found that four in five (81%) who have seen their bills increase have had to cut back on their energy use, and over half (53%) have had to cut back on other essentials.
Drawing on the experiences of people with mental health problems — and Money and Mental Health’s direct work with energy firms — the guidance focuses on four key areas where firms can improve their support for vulnerable customers:
- Helping customers who are struggling to pay. This includes proactively offering payment plans for those who are struggling, and getting in touch with customers who might be at risk of missing a payment before they default. Customers should also be made aware of discounts and support schemes they may be entitled to, like the Warm Home Discount scheme.
- Minimising the distress caused by debt letters and other communications. Firms should review their communications around missed payments and debt, to make them less threatening and as supportive as possible. They should also offer multiple communication channels to customers — including web-chat and email – to reduce anxiety around getting in touch.
- Using data to proactively support customers. Firms should consider using data from payment meters, smart meters and engineer visits to proactively offer support to customers who might be struggling to pay.
- Equipping staff with the right knowledge and skills. Staff should be trained to identify customers who may need additional support, and have a clear understanding of how mental health problems can affect a customer’s ability to deal with providers.
As well as minimising distress for customers, Money and Mental Health’s guidance explains how taking these steps will have other benefits for firms. These include easing the pressure on customer service teams and improving staff wellbeing, by reducing the number of customers in distress who urgently require help.
Through its Mental Health Accessible programme, Money and Mental Health is working with energy providers to better support their customers with mental health problems.
Helen Undy, Chief Executive of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, said:
“The energy crisis looks set to have a devastating financial and psychological impact for millions of people, and that’s especially true for people with mental health problems. But energy firms can play a vital role in reducing the pressure for vulnerable customers, by identifying those at risk and taking proactive steps to support them. It’s essential that firms take urgent action now, in the warmer months, to avoid leaving vulnerable customers out in the cold through a financially devastating winter.
“This guidance sets out practical measures which could make a huge difference for customers who are finding it difficult to cope with rising bills. We’re urging energy firms to act now — there is no time to waste.”