Access Denied Digital disadvantage and exclusion in the energy market
Digital services are revolutionising many areas of our lives. They provide newproducts, more choice and tailored experiences for consumers, and can reduceoperational costs for businesses. But in a world where services are increasinglydelivered digitally, people who are digitally disadvantaged can struggle toparticipate.
Digital disadvantage occurs when one person or group of people receive different,more harmful experiences of digital services when compared to others. Itencompasses a range of elements from inclusion to skills and attitudes, and isclosely linked to broader social disadvantage, with digitally disadvantaged peoplesharing many characteristics around age, education, disability and deprivation aswell as other characteristics which contribute to vulnerability.
It is becoming increasingly difficult for this group of consumers to take part in theenergy retail market: it’s more challenging to choose a new supplier and get thebest deal without using price comparison sites, and many suppliers have shiftedtheir customer services to rely heavily on online channels. Some suppliers havelaunched without a telephone line at all. This trend is likely to accelerate in futureas energy products become more complex and reliant on smart energytechnologies.
Our research has found that digitally disadvantaged consumers are at muchhigher risk of loyalty penalties, while the offline services they rely on are gettingworse. Over time these consumers risk being left behind by changes in themarket. While the number of people affected is likely to shrink over time, asignificant minority of people will remain digitally disadvantaged through the2020s.
This is a social issue that requires broad action from government to resolve, butthere are also steps that energy policymakers and industry should take to ensurefairer outcomes in the market. Overall we need to see action to:
Improve access to digital services by encouraging higher take up of broadbandsocial tariffs among eligible households, and supporting people who struggle touse digital services
Enable digitally disadvantaged people to get good outcomes in energy by reducingthe risk of loyalty penalties, providing affordable energy to those on low incomes,ensuring that they benefit from smart meters, and that innovative new productstake account of their needs
Ensure energy services are accessible and high quality for everyone bymaintaining good offline contact channels, making digital services accessible andraising customer service standards overall