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On supply, in control - using data to identify and support energy consumers in financial difficulty

27 June 2016

Citizens Advice has commissioned research into the use of data by energy suppliers to identify and and support consumers at risk of self disconnecting or falling into debt. This research also included the attitudes of consumers, suppliers and stakeholders. You can read a full account of the findings here [ 0.61 mb].

The research found that while suppliers’ use of credit data is increasing, they are still at the early stages of their thinking around the use of smart meter data. Although many suppliers contact customers as soon as they have fallen into arrears (e.g after a missed direct debit payment), very few have advanced plans for identifying and supporting customers before they fall into arrears. Some suppliers mentioned the difficulty in engaging customers facing financial problems as well as the potential for resources to be wasted attempting to offer help to people who would turn out not to need it.

Among consumers, the research found some people recognising the value of earlier intervention before things got too difficult (particularly those who had been through the debt process) while others were clearly sceptical and mistrustful of suppliers pulling together information on them from different sources. Debt charities and other stakeholders also saw the value in an early offer of help but were concerned that this new information might be used against the consumer.

In our response to this research [ 200 kb] Citizens Advice has set out three key outcomes that the industry should work towards:

  1. Consumers are able to have meaningful control over the use of their personal information by suppliers

  2. Consumers who are at risk of falling into arrears or self-disconnecting are proactively identified and engaged by their supplier

  3. Consumers are offered support to help them avoid falling into arrears or self-disconnecting