Leading commercial energy supplier BES Utilities is launching a ground-breaking fund to help businesses stay afloat during tough economic times.
The company’s new Business Energy Solutions Fund aims to support self-employed and small business customers who find themselves in financial difficulty and struggling to pay their utility bills.
The fund will be used to not only freeze customers’ energy bills, but write off historic debt.
Lancashire-based BES Utilities is the first gas and electricity supplier in the UK to set up such a fund to help the non-domestic/commercial market.
Research shows more than half (55%) of small and medium sized enterprises (SME) in the UK do not survive more than five years with high running costs among the reasons given for closure (see notes below).
Now, through the BES Fund – which is launched on Wednesday, September 9th – help will be available for BES gas and electricity customers who face financial hardship so they can continue to trade and get back on track.
Andy Pilley, BES Utilities managing director, said: “Times are very tough for many businesses and that is why BES, as a responsible gas and electricity supplier, is proud to set up the Business Energy Solutions Fund – the first fund of its type to help non-domestic customers in the UK.
“Through this fund, we want to help ensure customers who find themselves struggling to pay their bills get advice and support in dealing with debt and cash flow problems in a responsible and sustainable way. We want to help them stay in business.
“That is why we have joined forces with the national debt advice charity, Business Debtline, who will carry out assessments of customers’ finances and see where the BES Fund can help.
“Together with our many market-leading products, designed to save our customers money, we see the BES Fund as another way in which we are helping small and medium sized UK businesses in these extremely challenging economic times.”
The BES Fund is designed to help BES customers of 12 months or more by freezing current gas and/or electricity debt. Once a new payment structure is agreed, and the next three monthly invoices are paid, BES will clear the customer’s previous arrears using the fund.
The BES Fund will be independently administered by Charis Grants, an organisation with vast experience in the domestic utilities market, working with many of the UK’s leading energy suppliers.
Charis Grants will handle all applications submitted via Business Debtline and then liaise between the customers and BES Utilities to ensure successful awards are made.
Allyson Broadhurst, Managing Director of Charis Grants, said: "Since 2003 we have successfully delivered criteria-based schemes for the domestic customers of a growing number of energy and water companies.
“We are delighted to be extending our reach beyond domestic customers as we deliver the BES Fund – the first ever scheme in the energy sector aimed at supporting vulnerable small business customers.
"We recognise the vital role played by small businesses to UK economic recovery. Our insight from the domestic market will help support BES Utilities’ vulnerable small business customers, especially where business and domestic finances are intertwined.”
Jane Tully, head of insight and engagement at the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs Business Debtline, said: “This new support for small business customers who are struggling to pay their energy bills is warmly welcome. Combined with free debt advice from Business Debtline, this could make all the difference to many small businesses’ ability to continue trading and get back on the track.”
A recent report by the Money Advice Trust highlighted the challenges facing many small business owners, with more than one in three clients interviewed drawing less than £100 income from their business each month and in a constant struggle to stay on top of their personal, as well as business finances.
Earlier this year BES Utilities became the first energy supplier to announce an electricity price cut in 2015 meaning customers are now benefiting from a 5% reduction in electricity charges.
It is also an industry leader in the roll-out of smart electricity meters. BES Utilities prides itself on being ahead of the game with more than 70% of their 29,000 electricity customers already benefiting from a free smart meter – giving them real-time and accurate bills meaning the end of estimated bills, and the end of overpaying (or underpaying) for their energy.
*Statistic taken from the Growing Pains study by RSA, the UK’s largest commercial insurer. The study examines the current shape of the economy and barriers to growth for SMEs, reveals a downward trend in one to five year business survival rates since 2004. The full RSA report can be viewed here.