Vulnerable households are missing out on vital support from energy firms as the majority of Brits remain unaware of the existence of a crucial register.
The Priority Services Register (PSR) ensures additional free electricity, gas and water services to those most in need, such as priority support in the event of a power cut which could be life-saving for people dependent on medical equipment.
However, a non-profit organisation has warned that “very little is being done by energy firms to raise awareness” about the scheme as four in five Brits remain unaware of its existence.
Research by the Vulnerability Registration Service showed that even fewer people knew about it in Scotland’s largest city with only 17% of Glaswegians aware of the register.
In Edinburgh, only 26% of those surveyed knew about the PSR. More than half (63%) of vulnerable Brits questions revealed they had not heard of the register.
Chief executive Helen Lord said the register was crucial to help firms “better identify their vulnerable customers”.
“If they don’t know who their vulnerable customers are, how can they treat them fairly and meet their legal obligations to protect customers,” she added. “The forced prepayment scandal is evidence of this.”
She said “most people” should be aware of the register “because most of us have at least one person that we are connected with that probably should be on it”.
“I think it is massively concerning, I think there needs to be a really big campaign around raising awareness,” Ms Lord said.
In 2013, Ofgem research found that only 24% of the UK population was aware and instructed energy firms to improve efforts of identifying vulnerable customers, including pensioners households with children under five, people with health conditions or impairments and those dependent on medical equipment.
But ten years on and in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, even fewer people are aware of the support system making registration almost impossible.
Ms Lord explained that registering “isn’t that easy unless you know the words Priority Service Register”.
She added: “We found that less than 20% have even heard of it, so they wouldn’t even know where to start in terms of looking for it.
“I’m also quite concerned in terms of that a lot of people who should be on it are going to be elderly people or people suffering from ill health or people who are in very difficult circumstances, so there is chance they’re going to be less digitally savvy or less able to navigate their way around call routing systems or know what they're looking for.”
After looking for information about the PSR on the websites of 17 UK energy providers, the Vulnerability Registration Service highlighted that in the majority of cases finding the relevant information was difficult.
Only three out of the 17 websites had dedicated phone numbers for vulnerability-related queries.
“It’s being made far too difficult for people who are at their most vulnerable and struggling to cope with day-to-day tasks to find and understand what support they are entitled to,” Ms Lord said. “Energy firms are not doing enough to identify who their vulnerable customers are and provide them with targeted support.
“The fact many vulnerable people have never even heard of the Priority Services Register shows there is a long way to go.”
Ofgem is also striving to boost awareness about the PSR.
A spokesperson said: “Supporting consumers this winter and beyond is our absolute top priority and that means ensuring customers know exactly what support is available to them.
"That’s why, working with key partners, charities and the wider industry, our Energy Aware advice helps to clearly signpost the support that is available for consumers. This is alongside our robust work to hold the energy industry to the highest of standards and make sure consumers are protected during these difficult times.”