Ofgem is proposing reforms to drive up customer service standards at energy firms and reduce the risk of supplier failure.
Ofgem said that increased competition in the retail market has benefited consumers with cheaper deals, put pressure on incumbent suppliers to improve their customer service offering and brought in new and innovative players into the energy sector.
In a statement, Ofgem, which is the government regulator for gas and electricity markets, added: "But as in any competitive market some suppliers may fail to keep up with the pace of more competitive firms. Ofgem wants to ensure that if this happens customers are protected and the impact on the wider market is minimised. Building on the new entry requirements for new suppliers that came into force in the summer, the new rules for existing suppliers would let Ofgem request independent audits of suppliers' customer service operations and financial status."
As part of this, new checks would be introduced for growing suppliers before they hit certain thresholds of customer numbers requiring them to ensure they have the operational capability to effectively serve their customers. If they fail the checks, they would be stopped from taking further customers. Ofgem proposes introducing further ongoing 'fit and proper' requirements for suppliers, to ensure those in senior management positions are fit to carry out their duties, and a new principle for suppliers to be open and cooperative with the regulator.
All suppliers would have to assess their readiness for orderly failure by maintaining 'Living Wills' that would be scrutinised by Ofgem. Suppliers would have to set out what would happen in the event of their failure, including any barriers to an 'orderly exit'. This could include the likely costs faced by other consumers, disruption to services for their customers and how they would ensure compliance with any relevant licence conditions.
New rules would also be introduced to avoid disruption associated with supplier exit. These would ensure that, when a supplier fails, certain consumer protections around debt collection practices remain in place.
Mary Starks, executive director of consumers and markets, said: "Our regulatory regime needs to be effective and proportionate in protecting consumers, while continuing to facilitate competition and innovation. At this stage in the transition to a net zero emissions economy it is more important than ever that innovators can enter the market and prosper, driving benefits for consumers. The new proposals will create more accountability in the market, require more responsible and appropriate behaviour from suppliers in the market and reduce the risk and costs to consumers associated with supplier failure.
"In the event a supplier fails, the changes will also strengthen the 'safety net' and improve the experience of customers when they are transferred, so that consumers can be reassured that whatever happens they will be properly protected."