It's designed to help older people and anyone who is vulnerable alert their energy suppliers and network operator to their needs.
To sign up to the Register, customers need to contact their energy suppliers directly.
If a customer switches to another energy supplier, it's worth checking with the new supplier that they're still on the Register.
What is the Priority Services Register?
The Priority Services Register (PRS) is a free service that ensures the most vulnerable customers have access to enhanced support from their energy companies.
There are a couple of key things to note about the PSR:
- Each energy supplier and network operator keep their own list, so customers will need to update their details if they switch supplier or move home.
- It's a free service, meaning if someone claims to be from an energy company and says it costs money then it's a scam.
Reforms to the PSR mean that it's straightforward to get on the register and the eligibility criteria has been expanded to include more groups.
In practice, this means that vulnerable people will be covered by the PSR and get the extra support they need from their energy suppliers.
How the Priority Services Register can help
Joining the PSR has several key benefits that could help vulnerable people and those who need some extra support.
- Help with understanding bills: Account and bill information can be supplied in large print or braille to help users access this information even if they are blind or partially sighted. Learn more about how to understand your energy bill.
- Advance notice of power cuts: If your supplier plans to cut power for any length of time, they will notify you in advance. This is particularly important for those medically reliant on a supply of power, so that they can make alternative arrangements.
- Priority support in emergency situations: In the event of an unplanned supply interruption, or an unavoidable planned interruption which is expected to last longer than a couple of hours, your network operator can provide alternative heating and cooking facilities.
- Identification and password scheme: Vulnerable people are often targeted by scammers. This scheme aims to reduce this risk by agreeing a form of identification with the householder for any meter reader or other contact.
- Nominee scheme: Vulnerable customers can request that their statements, bills and other communications from their energy supplier are sent to a nominated person rather than them. This could be a family member or carer and could reduce the worry associated with receiving confusing letters.
- Help with metering: If your meter is in an inaccessible location, you could ask for it to be moved to an easier to reach place. This is particularly important for prepayment meters. For other meters, rather than moving it, you can request meter reading services in appropriate intervals by the supplier.
As the Priority Services Register is operated by individual suppliers, some offer higher levels of support or different services such as free gas safety checks if households contain a small child, a pensioner or are disabled.
However, every supplier is bound by law to prevent you from being disconnected (for non-payment of bills) between October 1st and March 31st each year if you qualify for the PSR.
There's more information on support for paying fuel bills during the winter in our guide covering the Winter Fuel Payment and other schemes.
Who qualifies for the Priority Services Register?
Eligibility for the PRS has expanded to include more vulnerable groups of customers.
You should qualify for the PRS if:
- You are of pensionable age
- You are disabled or have a long-term medical condition
- You are recovering from an injury
- You have a hearing or visual impairment
- You have a mental health condition
- You are pregnant or have young children
- You have additional communication needs
- You are in a vulnerable situation
It's also important to note that vulnerable customers can sign up to the PRS even if:
- The bills are in someone else's name (such as a landlord)
- The bills are included in the rent
The point of the PRS is that it protects customers rather than the billpayers. If a household contains a vulnerable person, it qualifies for the PRS.
Customers should not be refused access to the PRS. If this happens, customers should:
- Complain in writing to the provider
- Wait for an official response
- If there is no satisfactory response after eight weeks, escalate the case to the Ombudsman
There's more information about how to make an energy complaint in our guide, but suppliers are likely to act quickly where the PRS is concerned.
The scope of the PRS is quite broad, meaning most customers who need extra support will be able to get it.
As the list suggests, there's support for households in the short-term if something goes wrong and customers need extra help.
For example, someone who has been in an accident and knows they will need priority emergency support in the event of poor weather can sign up to the PRS as well as those who may be struggling with their mental health and want to appoint a nominee to deal with their bills.
The modern PSR no longer requires any proof of eligibility. Instead, the person now only has to make themselves known to the energy supplier who will then assess which services are most beneficial to them.
This means more people than ever before are benefiting from the PSR, which is a great thing.
However, there are still many out there who would qualify but either don't know about it or are unable to apply.
How to apply for the Priority Services Register
The process for applying to be added to the PRS is straightforward.
Customers simply need to:
- Contact your energy supplier
- Provide them with your contact details and as much information as possible about your needs and circumstances
If separate companies provide gas and electricity, customers will need to contact each supplier separately.
Remember, if you switch energy supplier, the process starts again and customers will need to contact them and ask to be added to the register.
One key point: if an existing energy supplier offers extra support that might not be covered under the main PRS points, check a new supplier can match that at the same time as assessing the options for the best energy deal for you.
Energy suppliers should pass their own PRS list on to the network operators who run the underlying infrastructure.
This means support can be coordinated, so if a PRS resident is involved in a power cut, the network operator knows they need that extra help.
However, it's worthwhile contacting the network operator directly if you have those types of needs to check that they have a record of your needs.
There's more information on how to contact the individual network operators in our guide to switching and finding out who your energy supplier is.
As we might expect with a service as important as the Priority Services Register, there are severe consequences for companies who fail customers who are signed up for support.
In August 2020, Bulb made refunds, redress and goodwill payments totalling £1.76m for failing to protect vulnerable customers between 2017 and 2020. This included issues with their PRS.
Due to a data error, 46,500 customers were removed from the supplier's internal PRS and therefore didn't receive the support the Register provides.
This meant that 933 customers who suffered power outages while they were not on the Register were let down by the supplier and were given £70,000 in compensation.
One of most notable breaches in recent years came as a result of Storm Arwen in November 2021.
A report published by Ofgem in June 2022 looking back at the failings of Northern Powergrid during the storm found that they did not directly contact vulnerable customers who were enrolled on the PRS when they should have done.
Network operators were warned to prepare better for winter pressures in the future, with a focus on supporting their vulnerable households.
As far as customers are concerned, then, the PRS has the potential to be very useful, although companies do occasionally fail with their responsibilities.
Summary: Great support scheme
The Priority Services Register is an excellent scheme to protect vulnerable customers who need extra support from their energy suppliers.
While there have been hiccups in the application of the PRS, applying to be on the Register is a great way of ensuring that energy suppliers and network operators know who their vulnerable customers are and what help they need.
One of the main problems with the PRS seems to be that people just don't know about it, and it's worth spreading the word and helping family and friends get the benefit of being on the Register.
Here are a couple of things to remember about the PRS:
- Customers need to ask their supplier and network operator to add them to the Register
- If you switch to a new supplier, it's worth checking whether you're on the Register at the new company
Thanks to the PRS, households can get the right support from their energy companies, so it's certainly worth signing up if you're eligible, especially in anticipation of cold winters and uncertain weather.