Coronavirus: Monday 6 April update for member companies

Ombudsman Services | April 06, 2020

We hope as you read this, you and your colleagues are safe and well.

Before we provide an update on the impacts of coronavirus and about some changes we will be making to our service, we would like to thank member companies for proactively sharing some of the challenges that are being faced by suppliers in the energy and communications sectors. We have listened to your feedback and the requirements of your customers and regulators, actively using this information when considering the changes and how best to react.

Our previous update reassured members and stakeholders that we had a robust business continuity plan (BCP) effectively deployed and that all colleagues were working remotely. That plan is still in force and working well. Our priority is still to ensure the service remains available for customers, businesses, regulators and other stakeholders, and for the safety and wellbeing of our people.

However, we also acknowledge that due to resource constraints and the impacts of coronavirus, that it’s not business as usual for some suppliers and certainly not for some customers. As suppliers have to prioritise certain customers and essential services, we recognise the need for Ombudsman Services to provide support as we face into unprecedented times with different challenges and needs emerging for customers, for suppliers, the government and for us too.

With the changes we are making we aim to support and mirror the prioritisation and essential work suppliers are implementing. We also acknowledge that disruptions to your services are now impacting on your ability to deliver dispute resolution, decisions and remedies. We are aware that some third-party services you depend on are not operating as normal, if at all.

Changes to our service

As of Monday 6 April 2020, we will be making some changes to how we manage and process cases; enabling us to prioritise those customers and cases which need immediate attention and essential support. These might be vulnerable customers, those in isolation or where it’s essential that services are not cut off, impaired or delayed. We are being made aware by customers and suppliers that some cases need fast decision making and the effective implementation of a resolution.

How will cases be prioritised?

To give an idea of how we will be assessing all existing cases for progression and prioritisation, the following examples form part of the framework, though this is not an exhaustive list and is subject to change as circumstances require:

Communications

• The customer is unable to make use communications services – fixed voice, broadband or mobile (but not pay TV) because of non-payment of their bills, where the customer cannot afford to pay the bill.

• The customer is at imminent risk of disconnection because of non-payment of their bills, where the customer cannot afford to pay the bill.

• The customer is unable to make use of communications services– fixed voice, broadband or mobile (but not pay TV) because of a fault.

• The customer’s fixed voice, broadband or mobile service is degraded to such an extent that it is unusable.

• Complaints that involve active debt collection.

• The customer is being caused distress as a result of being chased for payment by a debt collection company or because of concerns about their credit file.

Energy Retail

• The customer has lost the use of their gas or electricity supply.

• The customer has a prepayment meter which they cannot top-up.

• The customer has a meter which controls their heating which is not working – and therefore the customer cannot heat their home.

• The customer is being threatened with disconnection or the forced installation of a prepayment meter.

• The customer is being caused distress as a result of being chased for payment by a debt collection company or because of concerns about their credit file.

We will keep these categories under review to ensure we continue to align with Government and Regulatory priorities.

How else might customers and cases be prioritised?

As well as the above considerations we may prioritise a customer or a case for the following reasons:

• Where individual needs must be taken in to account above and beyond the usual or typical criteria. For example, where the complaint relates to an issue that may add to an existing mental health, safety or health issue. Or where, if the issue were to remain unresolved, it would cause or have the potential to cause significant hardship.

• If, for any other reason, not addressing the case would cause undue distress or harm to a customer. The objective is to ensure we can do the right thing for customers and suppliers and sometimes we know this doesn’t fall into a category or lend itself to a particular definition.

What happens if a case isn’t prioritised?

Any cases deemed not to be a priority will be put on hold until normal service resumes. We would then follow these cases to completion. If suppliers have the capacity to deal with non-priority cases more quickly, please contact us.

As and when suppliers have capacity, we would expect them to re-engage fully with the process – i.e. when operating normally we would expect them to progress non-priority cases. We will do the same.

What else will be changing from 6 April 2020?

Extended timeframes

An additional 28 days will be provided for all cases in the ‘prepare case’ status.

Customer communications

• Existing customers with priority cases will be advised if there is a delay to the service.

• For existing customers with non-priority cases, where evidence has been provided by both parties, customers will be advised that there will be delays to their case.

• For existing customers with non-priority cases, where evidence has not been provided by both parties, customers will be advised that their case will be put on hold, until further notice.

From 20 April 2020:

• All new cases and customers will be assessed for prioritisation based on the above criteria.

• We will then communicate the status of the case to the customer in a timely manner, advising of expected delays, next steps and if their case is on hold.

We will also take the opportunity to clarify with customers how and when they can reach us, what service levels to expect as they will change, and to make sure we have the optimal way of contacting them in return (in line with their preferences).

Guidance notes and support

In time we will provide further guidance for member companies as the situation develops. At the same time, we are updating our teams so we can all work in harmony. Thank you for your patience and understanding as we all adjust to the new ways of working.

Contacting us

• Our phone lines are available as usual https://www.ombudsman-services.org/about-us/contact-us

• The Relationship Team are available as usual at OSAcountManagers@Ombudsman-Services.co.uk

• Phone numbers and email addresses of case handlers will be provided in the case management system

Please continue to use the case management system. We ask that you use the messaging and notifications function for all case communication with customers.

As we deal with customers and cases in priority order, please be aware that it may not be possible for us to meet the usual contact times.

Postal services

There is a safe, secure service for us to pick up postal correspondence from customers and suppliers as usual, so please use the normal address details. Using this channel of communication may mean cases will take longer to progress, so please bear this in mind.

We also wish to extend our thoughts and best wishes to all those personally affected by the Coronavirus.