Making better use of data: identifying customers in vulnerable situations

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We are living in an increasingly technologically driven, data rich and digital world. UK regulators want companies in regulated sectors to harness this data, intelligence and insight to better identify customers who are in in vulnerable situations and ensure they receive tailored, seamless and stress-free customer experience.

Today, Ofwat and Ofgem, through the UK Regulators Network (UKRN), have published their report: Making better use of data: identifying customers in vulnerable situations.

Water and energy companies offer free non-financial support to their customers through their respective special assistance registers and priority services registers. The similarities between the free non-financial services offered in water and energy, from accessible bills to targeted support in an emergency provide a strong driver for effective data sharing across the two sectors. If a customer requires support from their water company, it is very likely they’ll need the same support from their energy company, and vice versa. Sharing non-financial vulnerability data will help limit the need for customers to have the same, potentially stressful, conversation regarding their vulnerable circumstance on repeated occasions.

In this report we:

  • Highlight positive collaboration already taking place between water and energy companies to better identify customers who might be in a vulnerable situation.
  • Explore how companies can make better use of data and work towards sharing non-financial vulnerability data across sectors
  • Set expectations for companies on how we’d like to see them move forward with this work and how we as regulators will contribute to and monitor developments.

Vulnerability is an issue that shows no sign of abating and we think there is scope for water and energy to work more closely together, pooling their knowledge and insight, to better support customers. Energy and water companies have already collaborated to signpost one another’s support services for customers. We want them to go further. We envision a future where greater cross sector collaboration and better use of customer data can improve the experience of customers who may be vulnerable through more targeted identification, better quality interactions and more varied ways in how customers are supported.

In this report, we have set out our expectations for both sectors, to work towards cross-sector sharing of non-financial vulnerability data. We present principles to help companies move towards data sharing based on building customer confidence and effective company collaboration.

Building on the energy sector’s Safeguarding Customers Working Group, Water UK and the Energy Networks Association have established a joint working group to take forward cross-sector data sharing. Both water companies and energy network operators are participating in the group.

Two of the companies (United Utilities and Electricity North-West) will also be launching a pilot vulnerability data-sharing programme in their region using live customer data in January 2018. Both regulators strongly support the establishment of the joint working group, and can see real benefit in the pilot initiative. The working group will report on their progress on a quarterly basis from January 2018.

Ofwat and Ofgem, through the UKRN, are also committing today to publish a follow-up paper with updates on company progress in autumn 2018.

If you are interested in this work or in engaging with us further, please contact [email protected] or [email protected]. For further information on the UKRN, please contact [email protected].