Standard Licence Condition 27: difficulty in paying
SLC 27 requires that suppliers produce and publish codes of practice setting out their procedures for customers who have difficulty in paying. You should obtain an up-to-date copy of your supplier’s code of practice, as they vary from one supplier to another. Suppliers must publish their codes of practice on their websites and provide copies on request.
The code of practice represents the stated policy of the supplier. It is not legally enforceable in individual cases, although a departure from the published code at policy level may be a breach of the relevant licence condition. Individual breaches should be reported to Ofgem or Citizens Advice consumer service (see Chapter 14). The licence conditions state that suppliers must take certain steps when dealing with customers in arrears. In particular, they must provide protection for customers who ‘can’t pay’ due to low income or inability to cope, as opposed to those who ‘won’t pay’. Further provisions offer protection from disconnection for vulnerable groups such as those over pensionable age, who should not be disconnected during the winter months. In practice, suppliers typically install prepayment meters instead of disconnecting supply, although this may result in self-disconnection (see here). The supplier must offer a number of services (a range of alternative payment options) when it becomes aware or has reason to believe that you are having or will have difficulty paying all or part of the charges for the supply of fuel.1Condition 27.5 SLC The following circumstances could indicate that there is a need for such assistance: •high consumption (over £766 for electricity or £560 for gas per year);2;
•a sudden increase in usage;
•arrears equivalent to more than one quarter of your usual consumption;
•multiple priority debts – eg, rent, council tax or water arrears;
•payment by Fuel Direct or cash (prepayment or budget scheme);
•failed direct debit;
•a history of struggling to pay or self-disconnection;
•unpaid fuel bill;
•you live in a target area as defined by the fuel poverty index or indices of social deprivation.