UK's energy regulator Ofgem has published a new strategy and work programme dedicated to identifying and tackling consumer vulnerability.
The document includes action to increase the uptake of free services for the most vulnerable consumers, with a marked recognition that both personal circumstances and factors in the market can affect consumer vulnerability.
According to the plans, Ofgem will review the free services available to consumers through the Priority Services Register (PSR), such as 'talking bills', priority support in emergencies and meter moves to ensure accessibility.
Ofgem said its research showed that fewer than one in ten consumers could name at least one PSR service when asked, suggesting it look at how to increase awareness and take-up, and whether the scope of services needs to be changed.
Ofgem sustainable development senior partner Sarah Harrison said the regulator's actions to make the energy market work for consumers is tougher when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable in the society.
"We are putting in place a wide-ranging new strategy, with a practical and focused way of identifying and tackling vulnerability and an action plan to back this up," Harrison said.
Harrison also noted that a key point of the strategy is that it isn't just consumers' characteristics that make them vulnerable, but rather how these interact with the market.
"We want to drill down to the essence of what puts people in vulnerable situations, using this understanding to guide our own actions and our expectations of the companies we regulate," Harrison added.
"We plan to do this in partnership with a wide range of consumer and community-based organisations, as well as with energy suppliers and distribution companies."
Consumer Futures chief executive Mike O'Connor said Ofgem's strategy was a good basis for taking a focused approach to the issue.
"If essential markets do not deliver accessible and affordable services to consumers on low incomes, then regulators, working with governments, need to intervene to make markets fairer," O'Connor said.
Image: Ofgem's new strategy includes action to increase the uptake of free services for the most vulnerable consumers. Photo: courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net.