Citizens Advice says radical reform of the energy supply market is needed to protect customers as new technologies are introduced in a fast-changing industry.
The charity, official consumer watchdog for energy, warns customers in vulnerable circumstances are particularly at risk as the need for decarbonisation accelerates the rate of change.
In a new report looking at how we access gas and electricity, Citizens Advice says new ways of buying energy will be increasingly available to householders and small businesses.
These could include consumers being able to trade power locally, agreeing to a fixed price for a set level of comfort, or getting a better deal by only using appliances at certain times.
Citizens Advice argues that with its local offices already helping 80,000 people with energy supply problems every year, it’s vital consumer protection keeps pace with changing technology.
The charity says its research shows three main barriers for people trying to access the energy technologies of the future:
- Upfront costs: some future energy services will involve installing new equipment like battery storage, an investment too expensive for many people
- Digital exclusion: 3 million British adults are not online. Many more don’t feel confident in using apps and websites
- Lack of trust: people are wary of appliances like smart meters accessing their energy data.
Citizens Advice says a forthcoming consultation document from the energy regulator Ofgem and the government, is an ideal opportunity to lay the groundwork for reforms.
The charity’s new report, Future for all, says the future energy retail market should be set up to reflect four important principles, and has suggested ways these can be implemented:
Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:
“The government’s recent adoption of a net zero carbon emissions target means big changes in how we access energy are on the way.
“New innovations in the way we heat and light our homes will bring benefits for many. The danger is that some of the most vulnerable in society end up excluded from these exciting developments.
“How much you earn, or whether you’re confident with a smartphone, shouldn’t prevent anyone from getting the best out of this rapidly evolving market.”