COVID-19 gives the energy industry a serious challenge to tackle on behalf of the homes and businesses that depend on the sector for gas and electricity.
As an industry, we are rooted in delivering for our customers and well-rehearsed on critical events. However, these are usually short-term, such as bad weather, from which we can take the following months to rebuild and recover. But we have not faced a pandemic of this scale so I want to make our position clear.
COVID-19 is a national issue. The government is leading the response. On 19 March, the government announced new emergency measuresagreed with the energy industry to protect the domestic energy supply of those most in need during the disruption caused by COVID-19. Ofgem will do all it can to support their efforts to ensure that our energy customers and those working in the sector are protected as best they can. I am sure that all energy companies will continue to monitor all government advice and guidance. As the situation changes, it is important we maintain a constant dialogue between government, industry, consumer groups and Ofgem, so we can act if any problems arise.
I have spoken to many industry leaders in the last week to stress that for Ofgem and the industry, the priority is to protect our customers and those who work in the industry. This means focussing on maintaining our secure and reliable service and addressing on our customers’ needs – particularly the most vulnerable. For example, some people will be self-isolating, but may need a meter repairing, cannot get to a shop to top up their traditional pre-payment meter or are struggling to pay their bill if their income has suddenly been reduced.
We expect companies to prioritise customer and staff safety. Essential repairs in people’s homes will need to continue, so energy companies need to have plans in place for how they will do this while managing risk to their staff. In speaking to colleagues in industry, I have been encouraged that there is a real determination to work together to ensure consumers continue to experience good levels of service.
We will be pragmatic in our approach to compliance during this period, and companies should not be afraid to do the right thing for their customers. Our focus in compliance will be to ensure that companies protect consumers from immediate harm, particularly vulnerable customers or where customers are at risk of going off supply. Where companies can demonstrate that any compliance issues have resulted from prioritising efforts to protect customers and security of supply, we will take full account of this in any decisions we take.
The virus will also have an impact on the wider Ofgem programme. We are aware that our regulatory processes place resource requirements on energy companies. Again, Ofgem wishes to work with energy companies so that any burdens placed on them at this time do not compromise the priorities set out above.
Equally, Ofgem will change the way it works. For example, on Monday, we took the decision to postpone until further notice our RIIO-2 hearings. These were intended to put consumers at the heart of the decision-making process on the next round of network price controls and we will come forward in due course with alternative plans.
Over the coming weeks, we will look closely at how best we can progress our wider regulation. For example, we will be looking more widely at how we can run our consultations over the next year, mindful of the limits on consultees and the different priorities that they will be working towards.
At Ofgem, we are now working from home for the foreseeable future. We already widely used technology to host meetings, avoiding travel where possible, and are now extending this to apply to our external meetings and events.
Companies that take part in daily calls with BEIS or Energy UK should raise any sector-wide challenges in those forums. Companies should keep us apprised of the challenges they face, as they arise and we will examine whether other forums are needed to ensure fast and efficient communication. When raising issues with the Ofgem team, please copy in our firstname.lastname@example.org in case your usual contact is away from work.