BSI launches verification scheme to ensure fair and flexible services for all

05 July 2018

-Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN), SSE, UK Power Networks, Wales & West Utilities and Western Power Distribution (WPD) are the first organizations to achieve verification to BS 18477:2010 requirements-

BSI, the business improvement company, has today launched a new Inclusive Service Verification scheme to help organizations demonstrate that they are providing a fair, flexible service that can be used by all consumers equally, regardless of their health, age or personal circumstances.

The new scheme is based on the standard BS 18477 Inclusive service provision. Requirements for identifying and responding to consumer vulnerability which has been developed in order to help organizations achieve vulnerability objectives and prove they provide an inclusive service. Consumer vulnerability is a significant socio-economic challenge affecting up to 50% of UK consumers.[1] Many regulatory bodies (Ofgem, Ofwat and Ofcom) have Consumer Vulnerability Strategies and recommend the use of BS 18477. 

Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN), SSE, UK Power Networks, Wales & West Utilities and Western Power Distribution (WPD) are the first UK organizations to obtain Inclusive Service Verification from BSI. In order to achieve verification certification, organizations undergo an independent assessment including a rigorous on-site audit covering all the requirements of the standard to demonstrate that they have the processes for identifying and responding to consumer vulnerability. The outputs of these processes are also tested to ensure they are working in practice. Following the initial assessment, organizations will be assessed annually.

Although the first organizations to achieve this are in the utilities industry, the scheme is suitable for any consumer-facing organization – from energy companies to broadband providers, local councils, government departments, charities, banks or transport providers.

Julie Walker, Social Obligation Manager for SSEN said:

“It’s such a proud achievement for SSEN to be one of the first UK organisations to go through BSI’s new verification assessment process. It is important that each year we show how SSEN is further improving and embedding the services and care we provide for our customers.  Being assessed for BS 18477 has allowed us to show that we are continually moving forward with the use of innovation, such as the introduction of our Customer Mapping Tool and the introduction of our Inclusive Service Panels; enhancing SSEN’s ability to provide a truly inclusive culture and continue to do the right thing for our customers in a more efficient and sustainable way.

“This verification is a fantastic achievement and is down to the hard work of our employees who go the extra mile to support and care for our customers; hard work that will continue year on year so we can provide - and improve on - the services that show our customers we care about their needs.”

Tony Keeling, Chief Operating Officer and Co-Head of Retail, SSE commented:

“No two customers are the same and there are a thousand different ways that vulnerability can present itself. At SSE we know we have a responsibility to our customers and our teams work hard offer them the flexible help and support they deserve. I’m very proud to say SSE was the first energy supplier to be verified by BSI as having the ability to look at a customer’s personal circumstances and adapt the service we give them to make sure it meets their individual needs. These flexible practices have helped us offer our customers a better service and it’s very welcome to see that BSI are expanding the programme.”

Kerry Potter, Priority Services manager at UK Power Networks, said:

“We are delighted to be a trailblazer! It’s great that our customer service has received this BSI recognition for our work in identifying the needs of different groups of customers and addressing their requirements accordingly.

“We have more than one million customers on our Priority Services Register and want more people to apply because we know there are many more who could benefit. Our staff do extra training so that we can not only address customers’ needs but also understand how they are feeling if a power cut happens.”

Mark Oliver, Wales & West Utilities Director of Business Services said:

"We’re proud to be amongst the first UK organisations – and the first gas network, to obtain Inclusive Service Verification from BSI. This rigorous and thorough process has helped us make sure we’re meeting the needs of the most vulnerable in the communities we serve, recognising that vulnerability can be caused by a range of factors including illness or a change in personal circumstances.

“Looking after those most in need has never been more important and as a company we’ll continue to do all we can to help those most in need – both through our own services and by working with partners.”

Alex Wilkes, Stakeholder Engagement Manager at Western Power Distribution (WPD) commented:

”Inclusivity is embedded in to WPD’s business culture and processes. We design our services inclusively and train staff to have the flexibility, autonomy, skills and ‘confidence to care’ so they can continue to improve services for all customers.

“The verification provides us with an ongoing opportunity to evaluate our support for those customers who are most in need. We are delighted to be officially recognized for the work we do to deliver inclusive services for our customers.”

Natasha Bambridge, UK Product Certification Director at BSI said:

“Identifying and responding to consumer vulnerability is important for any organization dealing with the public. The Inclusive Service Verification Standard, BS 18477 is designed to help service providers to identify and respond appropriately to different consumer needs and to deliver services that do not discriminate. As any consumer can experience vulnerability at any time, this verification scheme applies to organizations regardless of type, size and the services provided.”

“By achieving verification certification to BS 18477, SSEN, SSE, UK Power Networks, Wales & West Utilities and Western Power Distribution (WPD) have demonstrated that they have the relevant policies and procedures, training plans and fair and accessible practices in place when dealing with consumers.”

BS 18477 was developed in collaboration with consumer bodies and government.

The benefits of achieving verification certification to BS 18477 include: 

  • Satisfy regulatory requirements to embed consideration of consumer vulnerability in the design and delivery of products and services 

  • Contribute to the success of regulator consumer vulnerability strategy 

  • Achieve consumer vulnerability objectives by increasing customer engagement and satisfaction using the principles and framework provided in BS 18477 

  • Prove commitment to providing an inclusive service that is available, usable and accessible to all consumers equally, regardless of their personal circumstances 

  • Encourage the adoption of fair, ethical and inclusive practices 

  • Demonstrate best practice for organizations in the identification and treatment of vulnerable customers in relation to relevant legislation