As thousands struggle to pay household utility bills because of the Covid-19 crisis, the energy watchdog wants to make extra support for customers mandatory for power companies.
When the country locked down in March, energy firms agreed to boost the support packages available – but the measures have been inconsistent.
Regulator Ofgem is now tabling proposals to strengthen existing protections for people, and wants the new measures to become a permanent licence requirement for energy companies.
The regulator said that despite efforts by some firms, too many people were still seeing their energy supplies being disconnected.
Ofgem said people’s ability to pay should be considered by companies and an affordable rate set for those who will find the repayment difficult.
The watchdog also wants suppliers to give extra credit to people in vulnerable circumstances to allow some “breathing space” while alternative payment arrangements are being worked out.
Companies will also be expected to do a better job of identifying customers who are struggling to pay bills.
Ofgem chief executive Jonathan Brearley said: “I want to thank suppliers for their efforts during this crisis in keeping essential energy supplies flowing to customers, particularly those in vulnerable situations.
“These proposals mean those who are struggling to keep up are assured of some breathing space.”
Dame Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Energy is an essential service. At a time when more people are building up debts, everyone should be confident they’ll be given time and support to get their finances in order without the risk of disconnection.”
Ofgem’s plans are part of a consultation period due to finish at the end of August before the protection package is made compulsory.