Britain’s biggest regional net operator Western Power Distribution has been fined £14.9 million for neglecting its duties in protecting vulnerable customers on its Priority Services Register.
At-risk bill payers will not have received support in the advice and information they were entitled to, the regulator Ofgem ruled this morning.
The fine – nominally a voluntary redress payment – is split equally between the four licences held by WPD.
Details of six million such customers nationwide are held on the register. Almost two million are served by WPD.
In 2020 Ofgem began investigating how well the netco’s standards of service lived up to its licence obligations. Areas such as outreach to vulnerable users during power cuts, provision of emergency generators, hot meals or temporary accommodation, among consistent and proactive communications during outages, came under review.
Too often the DNO fell short, the investigation found.
WPD also failed promptly to provide specific information to most of its new PSR Customers on how to prepare for power cuts. Some waited up to twelve months after signing up, before the information was provided.
The problem had lingered unresolved by WPD for as long as five years, Ofgem inspectors discovered.
WPD was also slipshod in ensuring that staff visiting homes of vulnerable customers were fully checked under DBS regulations.
National Grid Group paid £7.8 billion for Western Power Distribution last year, as part of a return to a structure integrating Britain’s national backbone and supply in at least one region. The deal secured full approval from the Competition & Markets Authority in September
Following lengthy engagement with Ofgem, WPD has now stepped up compliance with the rules its licences compel it to respect, changing policies, procedures and processes.
“Totally unacceptable” was the verdict of Ofgem’s enforcement director Cathryn Scott on WPD’s slowness to detect and to remedy its neglect of its PSR duties.
She added: “Our enforcement against the company sends a strong message that when companies fail to provide the required services to their Priority Services Register customers, Ofgem will take action.”
More on the Priority Service Register here.