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Western Power Distribution pays £14.9m after vulnerable customer failures

Western Power Distribution has agreed to pay £14.9 million after it failed to offer proper support during power cuts to some of its 1.7 million vulnerable customers (Peter Byrne/PA)
Western Power Distribution has agreed to pay £14.9 million after it failed to offer proper support during power cuts to some of its 1.7 million vulnerable customers (Peter Byrne/PA)

Britain’s largest electricity distribution business has agreed to pay £14.9 million after it failed to offer proper support during power cuts to some of its 1.7 million vulnerable customers, the energy watchdog has announced.

Ofgem said National Grid’s Western Power Distribution (WPD) did not provide adequate information, advice and services to customers registered for priority assistance, particularly during power cuts.

Network firms have a duty to provide extra support to around six million households in the UK who are in vulnerable circumstances and are on the Priority Services Registers (PSR).

This includes giving prompt information and advice during unplanned power cuts to these customers, for whom a loss of electricity supply may be particularly difficult, so they can take steps to keep themselves safe.

Network firms may also need to provide mobile power generators, hot meals and drinks, alternative accommodation and on-site welfare units.

An investigation launched by Ofgem in 2020 found WPD failed to quickly notify and update some of those affected on the register by power cuts about when power would be restored and what assistance was available.

It also left new vulnerable customers waiting up to a year in some cases for information on how to prepare for power cuts after signing up to the network – a problem that spanned five years, according to Ofgem.

Ofgem’s probe also discovered that WPD failed to ensure all staff visiting customer homes – including those in vulnerable circumstances – had sufficient background checks, including criminal record checks.

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.”

Ofgem said WPD had since sought to address all areas of concern, changing its policies, procedures and processes.

It has agreed to pay £14.9 million into Ofgem’s redress fund, which will benefit customers.

WPD covers four licensed areas of Great Britain, including the South West, South Wales and the Midlands.

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