Fuel Poverty: A Public Health Concern

Author: Patrick O'Sullivan


If you’ve stepped out of the house in the early morning recently, you might have noticed it felt freezing. Perhaps cars were painted with ice and every blade of grass stood pale and brittle. It feels as though winter has truly arrived in the UK.


Despite the premonition that winter has been quite crafty this year, miraculously sneaking up on us while we were distracted with Brexit and rugby, we can normally predict with a fair degree of certainty when it will strike. In preparation for the cold, most people just turn up the heating and dig out their hot water bottles, but it isn’t this easy for everyone. In fact, ­­over 3,000 people a year are dying in the UK because they cannot afford to heat their homes. If this is not a sobering enough statistic, that is more than the entire of number of people who died as a result of illicit drugs.


This is far beyond unacceptable and it has been happening for too long; something drastic has to change. The level of consumer vulnerability in the UK is increasing as the weather gets colder. Today, 2.3 million energy customers owe a total of £267 million to their energy companies – before winter has even begun. Millions are struggling to pay to heat their home and paying the ultimate cost.


As a country, we are second worst in Europe for people dying needlessly due to fuel poverty and it is no exaggeration to say that it is a public health crisis of paramount importance. According to data from Egeria Insights, 22% of energy customers have identifiable vulnerabilities from nothing more than their complaint data. There may be no simple solution but given the severity of the issue it is critical that significantly more is done.


There is more pressure and responsibility on front line customer services than ever before. Each agent that reads a complaint needs to be on perfect form to identify the type of vulnerability and then convince an individual that they should accept help. To maintain this phenomenally high standard of empathy, understanding and bravery is a challenge. The more we can support agents with technology, the more we can be confident that we are protecting in vulnerable situations.


Marketing and brand teams also have an important role to play. Today there are low levels of trust in the economy and in particular the energy sector. Companies must invest in demonstrating that they are on the side of the consumer, earning trust, so that customers:


  1. believe that complaining can be a worthwhile activity;
  2. share intimate financial information with them; and
  3. accept the help that is offered.


There are some encouraging examples of this. Shell Energy and Robin Hood Energy have invested significantly to provide potentially vulnerable customers with a variety of choices to engage and support. Both companies offer these services without requiring any proof that people need help.


For too long, vulnerable customers have been underserved. Whether through not knowing about the problem, not having the ability to solve it, or not having the will to do something, companies have not done enough. But this is more than a matter of bad press or churning customers, this is of mortal importance. Due to awareness campaigns and regulatory measures businesses know about the problem of vulnerability. With more sophisticated technology to support and identify people, the ability to do something is there too. All that’s left is the will to implement it.


Speak to us direct to find out how we can help you to identify and support your vulnerable customers.


See how we identfy vulnerability here


email: patrick@egeriainsights.com