UK Regulated Utilities Post COVID: Business as Usual or Potential for Change?
The outbreak of COVID-19 is changing the way we all live and work and is causing significant economic challenges for consumers, businesses and communities across the UK. During this period, utility networks, as the backbone of modern society, are playing a critical role in supporting the wellbeing and continued economic health of UK society.
The situation is changing rapidly but after several months of lockdown, we look at the potential long-term impacts on regulated utility networks and consider whether we need to rethink their role and adjust the regulatory frameworks which govern them.
The UK Government has rightly identified the services provided by utility networks as critical for the effective functioning of society. Whilst regulated utilities are already experienced at responding to emergency situations (e.g. storms, flooding, cyber incidents, outages etc.), the major disruption to society caused by COVID-19 has placed additional challenges on regulated utilities and forced them, in some instances, to go well beyond existing continuity and contingency plans.
In the short term, regulated utilities have focused on maintaining a safe and reliable service by delaying non-essential works, ensuring continuity and reliability of supplies and ensuring customers’ needs are met, particularly the most vulnerable. However, they have also been required to extend their role to provide enhanced information to customers, coordinate with emergency services and even be involved in activities such as food and medicine delivery.
This is all in the context of a sudden and very large increase in the number of potentially vulnerable customers, due to COVID-19 induced health and financial challenges.