Fred Dunwoodie Stirton and Janet Dwyer of the Countryside and Community Research Institute, and Brian Wilson from Rural England CIC presented the report, sponsored by five utility companies: Cadent, GEUK, Southern Water, Wales & West Utilities, and Western Power Distribution, along with Defra (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs); to explore the particular rural dimension to vulnerability, as experienced by customers. The study was undertaken by a small team of researchers at the Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI) and Rural England CIC.
The overall aim of this study was to understand better the lived experience of a range of customers in vulnerable situations who live in rural areas of England, to assess the importance of rurality as a factor compounding vulnerability, and to consider in the light of these factors, whether more or better-designed PSR (Priority Service Register) support could be provided.
Rural England CIC stated that “The utilities sector has a duty to support its customers in potentially vulnerable situations, especially where they are (temporarily) left without electricity, gas or water due to a fault at the home or in the supply network.
“Customers who meet the eligibility criteria can sign up to their utility supplier’s or network operator’s PSR, giving them access to extra help and support. Eligibility criteria for the PSR include older age, disability, long term medical conditions and hearing or visual impairment. Currently each utility company maintains its own PSR, although efforts have been made to share information so that PSR lists are complete and coherent and customers do not need to sign up multiple times with different providers.”
Rachel Ryan Crisp, Vulnerability Lead at Southern Water spoke at the event, saying: “We were delighted to have had the opportunity to sponsor this important report and work in partnership with such respected organisations as Rural England CIC and CCRI.
“The Priority Services Register that is at the heart of the study is an incredibly important tool for Southern Water, so it was very positive to see the services provided through the PSR are welcomed by recipients. However, we know that currently we have only identified a small proportion of our customers who would benefit from assistance through the PSR. It was no surprise that a key finding of the report related to more active promotion of the Register and going forward we will be doing even more proactive promotion of the PSR to raise awareness to those who are eligible.”
Southern Water believes that only a small proportion of eligible customers in its region are currently registered on their PSR and urges their customers who are reading this report to take a look at the website for details and for those who are unsure or would like to enquire on behalf of a relative, neighbour or friend then they can call free on 0800 027 0800.
To read the full report go to Exploring Rural Vulnerability from a Public Utilities’ Perspective