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Access Denied Digital disadvantage and exclusion in the energy market

4 November 2022

Access Denied Digital disadvantage and exclusion in the energy market [ 1.1 mb]

Digital services are revolutionising many areas of our lives. They provide new
products, more choice and tailored experiences for consumers, and can reduce
operational costs for businesses. But in a world where services are increasingly
delivered digitally, people who are digitally disadvantaged can struggle to

Digital disadvantage occurs when one person or group of people receive different,
more harmful experiences of digital services when compared to others. It
encompasses a range of elements from inclusion to skills and attitudes, and is
closely linked to broader social disadvantage, with digitally disadvantaged people
sharing many characteristics around age, education, disability and deprivation as
well as other characteristics which contribute to vulnerability.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for this group of consumers to take part in the
energy retail market: it’s more challenging to choose a new supplier and get the
best deal without using price comparison sites, and many suppliers have shifted
their customer services to rely heavily on online channels. Some suppliers have
launched without a telephone line at all. This trend is likely to accelerate in future
as energy products become more complex and reliant on smart energy

Our research has found that digitally disadvantaged consumers are at much
higher risk of loyalty penalties, while the offline services they rely on are getting
worse. Over time these consumers risk being left behind by changes in the
market. While the number of people affected is likely to shrink over time, a
significant minority of people will remain digitally disadvantaged through the

Read our joint statement on digital disadvantage with Age UK. [ 160 kb]

This is a social issue that requires broad action from government to resolve, but
there are also steps that energy policymakers and industry should take to ensure
fairer outcomes in the market. Overall we need to see action to:

Improve access to digital services by encouraging higher take up of broadband
social tariffs among eligible households, and supporting people who struggle to
use digital services

Enable digitally disadvantaged people to get good outcomes in energy by reducing
the risk of loyalty penalties, providing affordable energy to those on low incomes,
ensuring that they benefit from smart meters, and that innovative new products
take account of their needs

Ensure energy services are accessible and high quality for everyone by
maintaining good offline contact channels, making digital services accessible and
raising customer service standards overall