Energy Efficiency Advice: Provision by Fuel Suppliers

Author:
Date: 1997
Location:

Rationale

Firms supplying gas and electricity to UK households are obliged by law to provide customers with energy efficiency advice and have clear codes of practice outlining their offer. As a consequence, suppliers are among the main providers of energy advice, and, since the liberalisation of the energy markets in the 1990s, the number of suppliers has increased, expanding the range of advice materials. Previous research revealed widespread inadequacies in the quality of advice services and limited value for customers. However, to date a thorough examination of the extent to which the codes of practice meet the regulatory guidance and the gap between such commitments and practical delivery has not occurred.





Key research Question

The study sought to review the standards and content of existing codes of practice developed by major energy suppliers, comparing the approaches of different companies and those across the sector as a whole. In doing so, it aimed to identify some core principles of good practice as well as areas for improvement going forward, which would enable new entrants to the market to develop improved codes.



Summary of activity

The main activity consisted of a review of the written codes of practice produced by major domestic fuel suppliers in the UK, which outline their responsibilities and commitments on energy advice. The research also looked at the submissions made to energy suppliers and regulators during the development of these codes.

The report also contains a model code of practice based on an evaluation of the content of existing codes.



Methodologies



Findings

  • The review identified a number of notable shortcomings in the advice on offer. Examples of literature containing out-of-date or technically incorrect information were found. The use of standard projections of the expected benefits of particular energy efficiency measures with no consideration of potential variables (e.g. the age, condition or size of properties) was common.
  • Information was not always objective, with cases of gas and electricity suppliers promoting the benefits of their fuel or omitting rival energy sources from literature.
  • The quality and availability of tailored advice for customers with additional needs were sporadic.
  • While there are requirements to provide advice, there is very little evidence that suppliers are monitoring its impact, in terms of both numbers reached and positive outcomes.


Recommendations

  • Codes of practice must be regularly reviewed to keep information up to date. This may involve creating more flexible formats but will also require better arrangements with relevant organisations such as the DWP, which oversees benefit entitlements, which often form part of eligibility criteria.
  • Suppliers should be clear about the basis of the projections they include in advice and ensure it reflects variables such as geography and property type.
  • Advice should be externally monitored to assess its quality and neutrality; as part of this, advice must cover all fuel types. Those suppliers that refuse to agree to show evidence that their service meets the necessary standards should be obliged to pay for a third party to provide it. New suppliers should be mandated to send draft codes of practice to external organisations for feedback.
  • Suppliers should proactively target advice at those most at risk of fuel poverty by concentrating initially on those using Fuel Direct or prepayment meters and households in arrears, with home visits used where appropriate and specific provision for customers with additional needs (e.g. a visual impairment or language issues).
  • Staff offering advice must gain a recognised energy efficiency qualification and ensure their knowledge is regularly updated and expanded to include areas such as money advice.


Other themes



Outputs







Explore

Find out more about our Fuel Poverty themes. Discover our projects and related reports.