Fewer than half of vulnerable Ribble Valley residents who are entitled to extra support during power cuts have signed up to receive it.
Just 41 percent of eligible customers in the district are on the Priority Services Register (PSR), which also provides them with advice on how to reduce their energy bills. That is the lowest proportion of anywhere in Lancashire.
Electricity North West (ENW) estimates that 11,700 individuals are missing from the database of those in need of help.
The Clitheroe Advertiser and Times obtained the figures after ENW – which operates the electricity distribution network in the region – appeared before Lancashire County Council’s external scrutiny committee to appeal for help in spreading the word about the scheme.
“If there are people out there who need more support, we want to know where they are,” said Jo Crinson, ENW’s head of customer contact.
“[That means] we can support them to make sure they are fully informed of what’s happening to the electricity supply, when it will be restored and whether they need any additional help during a power outage.”
PSR-registered customers are considered vulnerable because of factors including poor health, old age and disabilities. They are given six days’ notice of pre-planned power cuts and support and advice during extended periods when their electricity is off – whether the outage is planned or not.
Blankets, torches and even small generators can be provided for those who need them – as well as hot food and drink. Under a new arrangement with a food distribution outlet, vouchers are supplied to vulnerable households which allow them to order food to be delivered directly to their door.
Customers on the PSR are also offered energy-saving advice in an attempt to help tackle fuel poverty in the county. Five out of the ten most fuel-poor parts of the North West are in Lancashire, according to ENW’s analysis.
The company considered the usual definition of fuel poverty – the proportion of households which are pushed below the poverty line by the amount they need to spend on energy – and combined it with details about the percentage of properties which do not have central heating and the number operating the least energy efficient appliances.
Blackpool is joint top of the list alongside Barrow-in-Furness, with Burnley, Hyndburn, Blackburn with Darwen and Preston rounding out the top ten. Ribble Valley does not feature.
But committee member Tony Martin said that low-income households were being deterred from switching providers in search of a better deal.
“Quite often, they owe their energy company money – and they’re scared to death of switching to get £5 off their bill, because then they get a residual bill for [say] £250 from their original supplier and end up in court.
“You need to put strategies in place so that they can move that residual bill to their new supplier,” County Cllr Martin said.
The meeting heard that the energy regulator OFGEM is currently looking at ways of enabling energy customers in debt to switch.
Meanwhile, utilities companies are working towards creating a single PSR across the gas, water and electricity sectors to better capture individuals in need of support. ENW already has data-sharing arrangements with the companies which directly supply energy to households in Lancashire, as well as the water company United Utilities.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO REGISTER?
To apply to be added to the list, visit www.enwl.co.uk and search for “priority services register” or call 0800 195 4141.
BACK-UP FOR BUSINESSES
A separate priority register for businesses was established earlier this year. Those which sign up receive 30 days’ notice of any planned power cuts, advice on contingency arrangements and consultation over avoiding the most disruptive times for routine work.
“If you are a small business, [a power outage] can have a big impact, even if it’s just half a day – because you will have prepared your business to be working within that time,” Electricity North West’s Jo Crinson told Lancashire County Council’s external scrutiny committee.
“If businesses register on our PSR, it will change the way we work with them when we are doing planned interruptions,” she added.
Committee member Tony Martin said that there could be unforeseen consequences of power cuts for some sectors – recalling events at a county council-run care home during the Boxing Day floods of 2015.
“The first thing that happens when the electricity goes off is all the [automatic] locks open and the emergency exits. Luckily, the staff who were on duty managed to keep safe the 15 residents who wanted to go back to their homes in the middle of a flood,” County Cllr Martin said.