Work designed to bring the voices of citizens with unusually high or low energy usage into the mix as the regulator, Ofgem, reviews pricing structures. The work served as input to Citizens Advice’s response to Ofgem’s proposals but was also shared with policymakers at Ofgem. Citizens Advice were concerned that people with very low energy use were using less electricity than is necessary for a basic standard of living and that high energy users would also be negatively impacted by changes in pricing structures. The research was developed to build evidence on what drives these behaviours. Through 50 in-depth interviews we captured the experiences of people across England, Scotland and Wales, in their own words. 15 interviews were done face-to-face in participants’ homes to allow us to build a rich and detailed case study considering people’s living conditions.
- tested the hypothesis that low income consumers are using less energy (electricity) than is necessary for a basic standard of living; and
- examined the reasons for some consumers using significantly more capacity than average.
Additionally, the research sought to gather deeper understanding of the following research questions:
- What are the drivers behind low and high electricity usage?
- Does high or low electricity usage negatively impact the lives of vulnerable customers?
- What does self-rationing look like, both with and without a pre-payment meter (PPM)?
- Which consumer groups are using a higher level of network capacity?
This research was designed to increase Citizens Advice’s understanding of how electricity policy impacts consumers and was conducted alongside Ofgem’s Access Significant Code Review. A Routes to Action workshop, attended by stakeholders from Citizens Advice and Ofgem, was held at the end of the project. Traverse highlighted factors to consider amidst proposed policy changes and provided the following recommendations for further research:
- A price floor that is simple and clearly communicated such that people know the electricity they need to meet their basic needs is at a very low cost to avoid a ‘how low can you go’ approach to energy use
- Considering housing quality and electricity alongside each other in further research and advocacy as housing quality is directly related to electricity usage and poor quality housing prevents customers from reaping the benefits of the network changes
- The need for data and narratives for future research on high electricity users to identify where their needs are inflexible, particularly when connected to health and well-being.
The research findings helped shape Citizens Advice’s response to Ofgem’s review, to ensure no consumer groups are overlooked or adversely impacted by new pricing structures. Citizens Advice will also use the work to build its own programme around the future of heat and meeting net zero carbon targets in an inclusive and equitable way. Ofgem agreed to consider the issue of housing quality in the code review alongside the Warm Home Discount and the wider role that electricity network operators play in decarbonisation (which many people fear may come at a cost to those in need of supplemental heat).