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Contract suppliers have a duty to offer a contract when they receive a ‘request from a domestic customer’1Condition 22 SLC and will supply electricity to you if the contract is accepted. Normally, it is quite clear that you are requesting a supply but, to ensure it is treated as valid, your request should include:
    details of the premises to be supplied; and
    the day on which the supply should commence; and
    maximum power to be supplied, if this differs from that normally required by an ordinary domestic customer; and
    the minimum period for supply; and
    any reference to a continuing supply already established at the premises (where relevant).
Under Standard Licence Condition (SLC) 22, the supplier must offer to enter into a domestic supply contract with you as soon as is reasonably practical. The duty to provide a supply is only enforceable by Ofgem because it is contained in the supplier’s licence, not in the Electricity Act 1989 (see Chapter 14). The contract must be in a standard form containing all the terms and conditions, including the price and your right to terminate the contract. Suppliers must behave in a ‘fair, honest, transparent, appropriate and professional manner’ and provide you with complete and accurate information.2Condition 0 SLC
If you accept the offer of a contract, the supplier must provide, and continue to provide, a supply of electricity until the contract is properly terminated, subject to certain exceptions detailed below. If the supplier fails to fulfil its obligations in the contract, this is a breach of contract that may give rise to legal remedies, including a right to compensation.
It is worth noting that the SLCs for contract suppliers make no mention of ‘occupier’ or anything else connected with your right to occupy the place where you want a supply of electricity. The term ‘occupier’ is not defined in the SLCs but covers any person who occupies any premises legally, whether paying rent or some other charge, or paying nothing (see here for squatters).3Woodcock v South Western Electricity Board [1975] 2 All ER 545
A small minority of customers are covered by tariff suppliers that have different legal provisions. Tariff suppliers’ duties to supply are set out in the Electricity Act 1989, whereas contract suppliers’ duties with their individual tariffs are set out in the licence granted to them by Ofgem. Tariff suppliers have a statutory duty to supply you if:4ss16 and 64 EA 1989
    you are an owner or occupier of the premises; and
    you request a supply by giving notice in writing.
Relatively few customers remain who are subject to former tariff arrangements. There is, however, provision for an alternative status for these old tariff customers. This is known as a ‘special agreement’ under section 22 of the Electricity Act 1989. The terms and conditions which bind both you and the tariff supplier are the terms of the agreement rather than those under the Act. Under a tariff supplier’s licence, a special agreement is referred to as a ‘contract’, so that a special agreement must be a designated supply contract and must conform to the licence conditions covering the form and content of designated supply contracts (see here).
There are two circumstances in which the question of a special agreement might arise.
    A supplier has the discretion to grant you a special agreement if you ask for one when you give notice requiring a supply.
    You could be required to enter into a special agreement by the supplier if it is ‘reasonable in all the circumstances’.
In practice, most domestic supplies are now by way of contract and reference may be made to the SLCs.
1     Condition 22 SLC »
2     Condition 0 SLC »
3     Woodcock v South Western Electricity Board [1975] 2 All ER 545 »
4     ss16 and 64 EA 1989 »
Guaranteed standards of performance
Electricity distribution companies are subject to guaranteed standards under the Electricity (Connection Standards of Performance) Regulations 2015.1SI 2015 No.698 They set out the amounts that electricity distributors must pay you in compensation for failure to meet specified standards of performance in respect of the connection services. The amount differs between standards.
If the distributor fails to meet the standards, you are entitled to receive a payment. The size of the payment depends on the situation and the length of delay.2Sch 1 E(CSP) Regs For example, if a quotation for a connection is not provided within five working days, the supplier is liable to pay you £15 for each day, including the day on which the quotation is provided.3Reg 5(2) and Sch 1 E(CSP) Regs (Various sums may become payable where a supplier fails to provide a schedule of works and starting times for different types of connection, within various time periods.4Sch 1 E(CSP) Regs)
These payments can be made direct to you or via your electricity supplier.
Disputes as to whether compensation is payable may be referred by Citizens Advice consumer service to Ofgem.5Sch 2 E(CSP) Regs Ofgem must determine the dispute within 80 days, unless satisfied that special reasons apply for extending the period.6Sch 2 para 2 E(CSP) Regs Ofgem must issue a timetable and the list of documents received for determining the dispute and may also hold an oral hearing.7Sch 2 paras 2 and 5 E(CSP) Regs In Scotland, Consumer Scotland may take up this role.8Consumer Scotland Act 2020
Exceptions to the minimum standards of performance ~
In a number of situations the minimum standards of performance do not apply.9Reg 15 E(CSP) Regs These include where:
    you inform the supplier or operator that you do not wish any action to be taken or you agree another course of action;
    you give information at the wrong address or outside the hours that the supplier or operator has specified;
    it is not reasonably practicable for the supplier or operator to act in a prescribed time owing to severe weather conditions, an industrial dispute or the action of a third party;
    the supplier or operator has been unable to gain access to premises;
    you have failed to pay the relevant charge after receiving a notice or where you have committed a criminal offence;
    there are exceptional circumstances beyond the control of the supplier or operator.
1     SI 2015 No.698 »
2     Sch 1 E(CSP) Regs »
3     Reg 5(2) and Sch 1 E(CSP) Regs »
4     Sch 1 E(CSP) Regs »
5     Sch 2 E(CSP) Regs »
6     Sch 2 para 2 E(CSP) Regs »
7     Sch 2 paras 2 and 5 E(CSP) Regs »
8     Consumer Scotland Act 2020 »
9     Reg 15 E(CSP) Regs »
Liability for danger and harm arising from interruptions in supply
Suppliers and distributors are bound by the Electricity Safety, Quality and Continuity Regulations 20021SI 2002 No.2665, as amended by the ESQC Regs which lay down a duty to prevent danger from any works or equipment used in supplying electricity.
Danger’ includes danger to health or danger from electric shock, burn, injury or mechanical movement, or from fire or explosion, as a consequence of the generation, transmission, transformation, distribution or use of energy. It covers dangers to both humans and domestic and farm animals.2Reg 1(5) ESQC Regs Generators, distributors and meter operators are placed under a wide duty to ensure that all electrical equipment is sufficient for the purposes and the circumstances in which it is used and that it is constructed, installed, used and maintained so ‘as to prevent danger, interference with or interruption of supply’ so far as is reasonably practicable.3Reg 3(1) ESQC Regs A special duty is imposed on equipment such as a meter situated in your home.4Reg 24 ESQC Regs A duty of co-operation between generators, distributors and suppliers is also imposed under the regulations.5Reg 4 ESQC Regs
A distributor may also be liable for acts and omissions that amount to negligence, though technical and expert evidence may be needed to establish this – eg, in the case of a fire. Mere breaches of the regulations applying to distributors do not give rise to action for breach of statutory duty6Morrison Sports Ltd and others v Scottish Power [2010] UKSC 37, [2010] 1 WLR 1934, [2011] UKSC 1 but where harm results from negligence an action for damages may be available. The Divisional Court ruled:7Smith and others v South Eastern Power Networks plc and others [2012] EWHC 2541, per Akenhead, J
…where there has been a breach of the Regulations by a given distributor, that does not mean that it was culpably negligent; however, such a breach may point to a breach of the duty of care although in practice evidence which goes beyond the mere breach may well be required to establish negligence. A simple failure consistently to perform or discharge a statutory duty with no reasonable explanation or justification therefore may provide grounds for a claim in negligence.
However, it is still necessary to prove that the breach of the regulations actually caused the harm or damage. If the harm would have occurred even if the duty had been carried out there is no sustainable claim.
1     SI 2002 No.2665, as amended by the ESQC Regs »
2     Reg 1(5) ESQC Regs »
3     Reg 3(1) ESQC Regs »
4     Reg 24 ESQC Regs »
5     Reg 4 ESQC Regs »
6     Morrison Sports Ltd and others v Scottish Power [2010] UKSC 37, [2010] 1 WLR 1934, [2011] UKSC 1 »
7     Smith and others v South Eastern Power Networks plc and others [2012] EWHC 2541, per Akenhead, J »