With the UK still in the grasp of the COVID-19 crisis, businesses across all industries are struggling to adjust to the Government’s guidelines on isolating and social distancing.
One area in particular that raises questions for business owners is the energy sector. Self-starters to nationwide chains alike are being forced to close up shop to prevent the spread of coronavirus, creating a lot of uncertainty. Whether it’s interruptions to cashflow or fears of being left without power due to unpaid bills, COVID-19 is causing a lot of fear for businesses.
Thankfully, both the Government and the energy sector has set up measures to ensure that no one is left without access to energy. To make things as straightforward as possible, Business Electricity Prices has listed the Government assistance available as well as what the Big Six are doing for their energy customers.
What is the Government doing to help businesses with their energy supply?
The UK Government has already put in place new emergency measures to protect the domestic energy supply of customers.
While the Government’s actions to help domestic energy supplies remain consistent is being widely publicised, many business energy customers still feel in the dark. The good news is that there are safeguards put in place to ensure that businesses aren’t left without power during the pandemic.
The Government has also put in place a number of financial support for businesses who have been forced to suspend operations for the foreseeable future. The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme allows companies to claim a taxable grant worth 80% of their profits (up to £2,500 a month), plus, tax and business rates relief is also available. There are a number of funding options for businesses of all sizes, which you can learn more about here.
For more information, the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem) has released advice for customers, suppliers and networks, ensuring everyone feels reassured about their situation.
What are the Big Six energy suppliers doing?
Dedicated to keeping both their customers and staff safe, SSE has committed to only carrying out emergency metering work. This means that engineers will only complete work on meters that would otherwise result in customers being left off supply — all other bookings have been suspended.
In the event of an electricity or gas supply emergency, you’ll need to call your power distribution network operator or the gas emergency service as usual. You’ll find more details and the relevant phone numbers in their FAQ.
SSE intends to ensure all business energy customers receive the services they require through a combination of social distancing and online platforms. Call centre staff will be available to answer calls from home; however, they are urging as many people as possible to use online facilities.
With these services, you can:
- Obtain energy quotes
- Sign a contract
- Obtain terms and conditions
- View rates
- Access direct debit forms
- Log a change of tenancy
- Find out how to pay a bill
- Get in touch via contact forms
Businesses are advised to turn off all non-essential energy consumption and to get in touch with SSE to discuss your situation if you’re worried about making your bill payments.
British Gas has stated that looking after their customers and employees is their top priority, ensuring that they work hard to prioritise emergencies and put the needs of the most vulnerable first.
Businesses that are unable to operate during the pandemic are urged to get in touch with British Gas to discuss their situation and work together to develop a payment plan that works for everyone. For those who require an appointment, British Gas engineers are following official health advice to keep themselves and their customers as safe as possible.
For businesses that are still operating, British Gas has created a guide to business tips and energy-saving advice to keep your bills low during the pandemic. You can also learn more information in the COVID-19 FAQ section or on the British Gas help and support page.
EDF wants to reassure its customers that their generation teams have been classed as key workers, meaning their business customers will continue to receive the energy they need.
If you’re worried about paying your business energy bills on time, EDF is offering additional support and flexibility where needed. Each case will be looked at on an individual basis, but you may be eligible for longer repayment periods, delayed payments or set up alternative payment arrangements.
Thanks to their existing partnerships with Citizens Advice Plymouth and IncomeMax, EDF is also providing advice to help customers maximise their existing income and manage their money.
If you need to get in touch with EDF but it’s a non-emergency, you’ll likely find it’s quicker to manage your account online. There are also 24-hour live chat services available if you need more assistance, or you can head over to the personalised priority services area to find out about additional support for vulnerable business energy customers.
In an effort to aid their most vulnerable customers, those who are eligible can ask to be added to the Npower Priority Services Register for free, giving them access to extra support for communication, safety and access needs.
Npower engineers are following the latest safety guidelines and are wearing the appropriate PPE to maximise their own safety and those of your business. They are, however, asking customers to submit their readings online wherever possible to minimise the amount of contact between engineers and customers during the pandemic.
Any Npower business customers who are suffering from COVID-19 — whether it’s reduced profits or being forced to cease operating — are advised to speak to an advisor as soon as possible. They’ll take your individual situation into account and do what they can to come to a suitable arrangement. Examples include spreading your bills by Direct Debit over the year or additional breathing room for bill payments.
Scottish Power has reduced the number of employees in their call centres in accordance with the latest Government advice. They are asking that customers only call in the case of an emergency to allow employees to continue assisting the most vulnerable as a priority.
Instead, Scottish Power is urging customers to utilise the supplier’s online functionality. Customers can manage their account online 24/7 by registering here, giving them access to managing their bill, making payments and renewing or changing their tariff. There are also specific online features for prepayment customers.
Direct Debit customers who are worried that they can’t afford to pay their business energy bills are advised not to cancel their Direct Debit if possible as it can lead to complications further down the line. Instead, the Direct Debit Manager tool allows you to reduce your business’ payment to one that is more manageable during these unprecedented times.
Business energy customers who obtain their energy via EON will receive support from the supplier, whatever the size of their company.
Although EON is advising customers to keep the phone lines free for emergency use, there are a number of contacts available for customers to email. These range from specialists who can help develop a more realistic repayment plan for those who are financially affected by COVID-19 to those who can offer advice for reducing energy use for businesses that have been forced to furlough employees.
EON is reducing the number of engineers that are making contact with business energy customers — as they’re prioritising emergencies — so services like smart meter installations will, in most cases, be suspended. The supplier wants to make it clear, however, that most services can be completed online and advises customers to do so.
Switching energy provider
Although the Big Six are doing what they can to help their customers, it doesn’t mean that there’s nothing you can do to help yourself. It may not be on the top of your priority list at the moment, however, switching your energy supplier is still the easiest way to save money on your business energy bills.
Business Electricity Prices help thousands of businesses reduce their energy bills each year by switching to a more competitive tariff. Use the free, impartial comparison tool to see which provider can save you the most.