New campaign launched for Utilities industry to become dementia-friendly

On 28 February 2018 we launched the first ever dementia-friendly utilities guide, asking businesses to unite against dementia and commit to better supporting customers affected by the condition.

Four representatives in front of a 'united against dementia' banner

Utilities like gas, water and a phone line play an essential part of a person’s home life - but Alzheimer’s Society has found that sadly many utilities companies are failing vulnerable people with dementia.

Dealing with bills, booking appointments and having unexpected disruption to your energy, water or communications can be dangerous, confusing and extremely difficult to navigate when you have dementia.

Alzheimer’s Society’s ‘Dementia-friendly Utility Guide: A practical guide to supporting your customers and employees affected by dementia’ was launched at an industry-wide event.

Sector representatives heard from the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, The Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, CEO of Ofgem Dermot Nolan and Alzheimer’s Society CEO Jeremy Hughes about the current situation, which sees many utilities businesses failing vulnerable people with dementia and their carers, and heightens the need for organisations to commit to becoming dementia-friendly.

Forgetting to pay a bill may leave a person with dementia in debt and without heating or water, and they may be left paying through the nose for utilities services they don’t need or fully understand. We need to ensure utilities businesses have the right knowledge and understanding to identify vulnerable customers so that people with dementia don’t fall victim to bad practice.

Identifying this as a growing issue for the 850,000 people across the UK living with dementia, Alzheimer’s Society developed the guidance with input from people with dementia and their carers, and also with utilities businesses who are already taking active steps to becoming more dementia friendly.

Organisations involved were; British Gas, BT, Cadent, UK Power Networks, Wessex Water, Severn Trent, Talk Talk and E.On.

The guide itself includes key information on dementia, anecdotes of the difficulties utilities can cause for people living with the condition and examples of best practice already being implemented by some leading utilities companies in an effort to address these issues.

In the guide, practical advice on protecting vulnerable people with dementia is offered to utilities companies of all sizes - such as ensuring processes like comparing tariffs are straightforward and encouraging staff to become Dementia Friends.

Jeremy Hughes, CEO at the Alzheimer’s Society, said:

'Dementia is the biggest health and social care challenge facing society, with over 1 million set to develop the condition by 2021.

'Yet we hear too often from people with dementia and their families who are struggling with their Utilities providers - from the woman in her 90s, living alone, who had her phone line cut off just before Christmas to the man paying hundreds of pounds for TV services he didn’t even realise he had.

'In severe weather conditions like those we have seen recently, it is even more important that the most vulnerable in society are supported with affordable energy supplies and dementia-aware staff who can help them if their supply is interrupted.

'Some businesses are already doing great work to address these issues, but too many vulnerable customers are being failed and urgent action is needed to change this – including ensuring their needs are being met, they are given clear, timely information and are charged a fair price. Utilities companies must unite now and commit to the principles of this guide to improve the lives of people with dementia.

Business Secretary Greg Clark, said:

I welcome the publication of the new Dementia-friendly Utility Guide and I am pleased to see the collaboration between the Alzheimer’s Society and leading utilities companies.

'This is a fantastic initiative, offering guidance on many issues that are faced daily by people affected by dementia and ensure the utilities sector is more accessible to them.

'We want to ensure that our older citizens can lead independent, fulfilled lives and through our Industrial Strategy and Grand Challenges, we are committed to harnessing the power of innovation to create new products and services to support our ageing society.'

Dermot Nolan, CEO of Ofgem said:

'The new dementia-friendly Utility Guide will help suppliers provide customers with dementia extra support.

'Some suppliers have begun focusing on this by training their staff through the Dementia Friends’ Initiative.

'But it’s unacceptable that all too often the provision of extra services for vulnerable customers, including those with dementia, is the exception rather than the norm among the industry.

'Ofgem’s new overarching rule on vulnerability requires suppliers to treat vulnerable customers fairly and we will take action against suppliers who fail to provide the extra support their vulnerable customers need.'

Find out how to get involved and download the guide

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