Making markets work for the poor: Ebico and fuel poverty

EbicoAs most energy companies make record profits and raise their prices higher and higher, there’s only one that is not trying to make a profit: the social enterprise, Ebico Ltd.  We will be working with Ebico in the coming months to campaign against fuel poverty, so we invited their chair Hugh Lee to say a little about the organisation.

Phil Levermore and I founded this not-for-profit company in 1998 with the specific aim of helping the fuel-poor.  We do this in two ways:

  • Firstly, a high proportion of the fuel-poor have prepayment meters.  Every other company charges more to these customers than it does to customers who pay by direct debit.  We charge the same price to everybody regardless of how you pay, so our prepayment meter customers get a better deal.
  • Secondly, many of the fuel poor are in small flats where their gas and/or electricity usage is low. As a result, they find that the standing charge is a high proportion of their bill. We are the only company that has no standing charge for both gas and electricity throughout Britain, and this significantly reduces the bills of our low-use customers.

We have received a number of comments, like the following from a Facebook follower:

“So glad I have Ebico Ltd; not only am I warm , I know I am receiving the best service without being ripped off! Thank you to everyone there for helping people like me keep our bills low.”

Because we are a small company, we are able to provide excellent customer service.  This is illustrated by the following quote from a happy customer:

“I would just like to let you know how extremely helpful and professional your customer service representative has been with myself through the process of moving my dual fuel to Ebico. I have been asking so many questions about the move and she has always replied extremely promptly, professionally and with a fantastic attitude. I know that staff within this industry probably only hear about the complaints, but I believe that praise should be given when an excellent service is received, which in this case it has. I would not hesitate to recommend your company to anyone thanks to your customer service representative.”

In addition, a recent Which? survey showed that the average time it takes us to answer phone calls from our customers is much lower than any other energy company – just 17 seconds!

We also help the fuel-poor through the Ebico Trust for Sustainable Development.  This provides much needed financial support to community-based energy saving projects working with lower-income households around the country. Many of these projects involve visiting people in their own homes and giving them advice on things like how to operate their thermostat and time-clock, and providing them with simple devices that save energy, including low-wattage lightbulbs, reflective panels behind radiators, and a gadget that switches off an appliance when it is on standby.

It is a scandal that so many people are forced to choose between food and warmth because they don’t have enough money for both. The Christian church has often been at the forefront of those alleviating poverty, and Ebico is delighted to working with Church Action on Poverty.

Hugh Lee is chair of Ebico.

Food, Fuel, FinanceChurch Action on Poverty is preparing to launch a campaign for Fair Prices on energy, as part of our ‘Food, Fuel, Finance‘ project.


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