If you’re finding it difficult to manage your energy supply, the Priority Services Register (PSR) may be of interest. This free service helps vulnerable customers with extra support. Read on for our guide to the PSR, including which services are provided and how to apply.
Devised and managed by industry regulator Ofgem, the PSR is a free service that gives vulnerable customers access to the support they need. Although it’s overseen by Ofgem, services are provided by individual energy suppliers. Due to recent changes, it’s now easier than before to get on the register. Eligibility criteria are broader than before, enabling a wider range of consumers to get the support they need.
So, while in the past eligibility was dependent on factors like age and disability, today the Priority Services Register scheme is open to those in need for other reasons. The new system recognises that the definition of vulnerable can apply to temporary circumstances as much as a customer’s characteristics.
The type of support will depend largely on the individual’s circumstances as well as what’s offered by each supplier. It could include everything from quarterly meter readings to free gas safety checks, meter relocations, and large-format or Braille bills. Individuals on the Priority Services Register can also expect advanced notices of interruptions to their service, and priority during a power cut.
Ofgem’s revisions to the PSR mean that more people than ever are eligible for the PSR. There are no clear-cut definitions regarding who qualifies. The following are a few examples of situations that could cause you to be eligible for priority services:
You’re of pensionable age
You have a disability
You need additional support in a certain way
Your well-being would suffer if you lost your energy supply
You have a chronic illness
You have a hearing or visual impairment
Each energy supplier and/or network operator is responsible for maintaining its own Priority Services Register, subject to definitions of vulnerability. While in the past you’d need to produce some proof of disability, impairment or age, this is no longer required. This means that more customers are now able to access the PSR benefits.
There’s a broad definition of what constitutes a vulnerable situation. For example, some customers may have difficulties in understanding their bills, while others are unable to top up a prepayment meter due to illness or injury.
Families with young children are usually eligible. Any households with children under the age of five are given priority, so if this applies to you it’s worth contacting your supplier.
If you think you might benefit from joining the PSR, what can you expect? The list of services is quite long and varies by energy supplier. After contacting your supplier about registration, it will be able to assess where and how you might need extra help. Here are a few common types of services:
Advance notice of power cuts – Customers on the electricity Priority Services Register are notified in advance whenever possible about any upcoming power cut. For individuals who rely on a continual source of electricity for medical equipment, this is particularly important.
Assistance with billing – Large print, braille and talking bills are available for those who are blind or partially sighted. You can also request that your statements and bills are sent to a nominated person, such as a family member or carer. This helps prevent unnecessary stress or confusion regarding billing.
Priority support during emergencies – When there are unavoidable interruptions to the usual energy supply, the network operator can provide alternative sources of heating, power and cooking facilities.
Meter reading – If you’re unable to read your meter, you can request assistance. The supplier may send out a meter reader to take quarterly readings on your behalf. Another option is to move the meter to a more accessible location, particularly if you have a prepayment meter that needs to be topped up.
Caller identification scheme – Many suppliers agree on a form of identification for doorstep callers. They might have to show this ID or present a password for security. This helps cut down on scams, unfortunately, an all-too-common problem facing vulnerable individuals.
Cold weather amnesty – All suppliers are required to maintain your connection between 1 October and 31 March each year if you qualify for the PSR, whether or not you’re able to pay bills.
Individual services will depend on the supplier. Aside from the most common benefits mentioned above, here’s a look at some of the additional services you can expect from major energy suppliers.
Supply Interruption Warning system providing as much advance notice as possible
Free gas safety checks
Free movement of prepayment meters
Knock and wait service, giving more time to answer the door
Password scheme to ensure doorstep callers are genuine
Services to enable direct communication when English is not your primary language
British Sign Language services
Textphone or minicom facilities for easier communication
Password security on all accounts to prevent fraud
Free quarterly meter readings, with advance notice given for those customers who prefer a carer to be present during appointments
Third-party account management and correspondence
Interpreter services for customers whose first language isn’t English
Knock and wait service allowing more time to answer the door
Alternative format for bills includes the usual large format and Braille, as well as audio cassette and compact disc
Free annual gas safety checks performed by qualified engineers
If you think you might benefit from the Priority Services Register, the first step is to contact your supplier. To find these contact details, take a look at your energy bill or search online. If you don’t use the same supplier for gas and electricity, you’ll need to register with both companies. When you speak to your supplier, you should also mention if you’re dependent on a consistent energy supply due to a medical condition. Suppliers will be able to pass on your details to the network operator.
Yes. Your status on the Priority Services Register scheme will have no impact on switching suppliers. Ofgem has recently made it easier to track PSR customers through the system when switching, but just in case you should mention it to the new supplier. It will give you a list of available services when you sign up.
Switching suppliers gives you the chance not only to benefit from cheaper prices, but a host of new benefits. Because each provides slightly different services to vulnerable customers, you might want to look at what’s offered under the PSR scheme when you’re comparing plans. Customer service ratings should also give some indication of how you’ll be treated.
There are additional support services available to customers, whether or not you’re registered as part of this scheme. For example, many homeowners are eligible for free gas safety checks every 12 months. You’ll qualify for this service if you receive a means-tested benefit and fall under one of the following categories:
You live with a child under the age of five
You are of pensionable age, disabled, or chronically ill
If you fit this description, you can contact your energy supplier for a free gas safety check without registering on the PSR.
There are also support services similar to the electricity Priority Services Register in other sectors. For example, the water, phone and public transport sectors operate schemes for vulnerable customers. Some energy suppliers work together with the water companies so that you only need to register once to receive assistance in both areas. Ofgem is currently working to encourage all suppliers to do this, making it easier for those who need help to receive it.
The Priority Services Register scheme is quite useful for anyone in need of a little extra help. Whether you’re temporarily recovering from surgery, undergoing hardships at home or dealing with a longer-term disability, get in touch with your energy supplier to find out more about it. Registering is free, and you’re free to switch suppliers at any time whether you’re on it or not.