The Commission will deliver a programme of specific projects to be completed this financial year, addressing the priority themes that have been identified. Where research is undertaken the outcomes of that research will form a basis for further advocacy and practical projects in the following year. Work should where possible integrate the views of grassroots organisations and the lived experience of energy consumers. All work will be tendered according to Scottish Government procurement guidelines to ensure best value and deliver high quality outputs.
7.1 Energy Debt
This project will consist of a programme of research, commencing Q3 2020/21, to build understanding of the changing landscape for energy consumers in debt. This will take the form of a literature review and analysis of available quantitative and qualitative sources to gain an understanding of energy debt issues facing consumers in Scotland. Direct stakeholder research will be undertaken if appropriate.
The review will explore existing research on how the severity and impacts of energy debt vary across different technologies/fuel types, and how these may vary on a regional basis. A high level exploration of how these issues may link to overall systems of debt will also be included. This should also explore the best means of communicating with consumers to build understanding of energy debt – both within and outside the regulated energy markets.
The research will include a detailed look at systemic barriers to consumer debt mitigation (for example a lack of switching options) and how these barriers have changed in the light of changing industry priorities and practices, especially stemming from COVID-19.
Where possible this research will utilise quantitative resources (for example the Scottish Housing Survey and local authority funded advice) to visually present the linkages between technologies, fuel types, debt, and fuel poverty, for example through maps etc. This research should seek to present information to the greatest detail offered by the available resources.
The work will consist of:
- Desk-based research that will include a detailed exploration of the energy debt landscape for consumers in Scotland across the regulated and unregulated markets, with a regional focus to the greatest extent possible.
- Further interviews with suppliers, community groups and/or directly with consumers as necessary.
7.2 Best Practice in Customer Service
The ECC will push for consistent, high standards for consumers across the energy sector and work to identify and promote best practice. There are a range of other initiatives in this area including the recent establishment of a vulnerability commitment by Energy UK and work by Ofgem on the supply license for new market entrants.
This work will be differentiated through its whole system approach. Taking into account the regulated and unregulated energy markets in addition to its focus on addressing issues raised by the COVID-19 situation which highlighted the need for supplier consistency and greater consumer engagement.
A survey of Scottish consumers across the energy sector would provide a firm baseline of Scottish-specific data for the commission to utilise to guide further project work in future work plans and general advocacy work. This work will be made up of a combination of phone and online survey methods in order to ensure that Scottish Consumers are not excluded and will query consumers across the following themes.
- Energy supply – what fuel is used and how is this supplied
- Energy suppliers and switching – which suppliers do consumers use and which, if any, switching patterns exist between these
- Experience of their supplier's customer service and other offerings/support.
- PSR uptake
- Engagement with decarbonisation (e.g. have consumers considered installation of new technologies)
The survey will obtain a sample that is representative of Scottish demographics and with a suitable geographic range and variety of fuel types used
7.3 Improving Outcomes for Consumers in Vulnerable Circumstances
Priority Service Registers provide access to a range of support for consumers in vulnerable circumstances. Uptake of these registers has lagged behind in Scotland in comparison with the rest of GB and this may mean that such consumers are not accessing the support they are entitled to. This is especially important given the challenges for consumers brought on by COVID-19.
The project will look at how suppliers and networks are promoting these services and examine the requirements set out in license obligations. Furthermore, the ECC would benefit from an expanded knowledge of whether PSRs are working for consumers, which aspects of these services are stronger, are consumers expectations met and whether PSR holders could go further in meeting expectations. This could build on recent Citizens Advice Scotland work in this area. The ECC would also benefit from a comprehensive look at eligibility criteria across PSRs and whether these are fit for purpose. In particular a look at research on our changing understanding of vulnerability and how this correlates to PSR membership. Specific attention should be paid to financial vulnerability and how, if at all, this is considered in regards to PSRs. Consideration should be given to how these criteria can be expanded and to the potential benefits of this. All of this should be considered within the context of both COVID-19 and the energy systems transition, in particular how these events may change current definitions of vulnerability and how PSRs can be best designed to address these
Ultimately this will give the ECC a firm grounding for future work on how to fill gaps in provision of PSRs both in terms of services offered and eligibility requirements.
7.4 Engagement with Decarbonisation
This project will build an enhanced understanding of the current levels of knowledge amongst consumers of decarbonisation technologies and barriers to uptake, whether real or perceived. This will allow informed advocacy to target the areas most in need of change in the longer term.
The work will consider how communities can engage with decarbonisation technologies. There may be opportunities to tap into community-scale organisations to explore how the adoption of decarbonisation technologies can be encouraged in a way that best supports consumers, both individually in their own home and on a community basis, taking into account geographic considerations or consumers' economic or protected characteristics. This action will also need to consider how consumers who rent their property can be supported to effect change.
This work will consist of a review of existing information on consumer knowledge/engagement with decarbonisation across home energy, heat and transport. Further direct engagement with consumers or consumer organisations may be undertaken to further explore the issues identified.