Redditch contact centre staff Reach:Out to energy customers hit by Covid storm

A Redditch-based outsourcing firm which provides customer contact services for some of Britain’s biggest energy suppliers is helping people who are struggling to pay their bills due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

The Sigma Financial Group has set up the ground-breaking Reach:Out initiative to help customers find a pathway to better manage their debts and improve affordability by signposting them towards free advice and support – with the programme accelerating due to the sharp economic downturn.

Working with leading UK organisations, including some of the UK’s largest utility suppliers, the Reach:Out initiative sees Sigma’s staff become pathfinders who work to get back in contact with customers who have stopped engaging with their supplier as debts mount up.

Since its recent launch Reach:Out has managed to re-engage with between 20% and 25% of customers at a point when they would have been sent to a debt collection agency – helping those customers work out a payment plan, avoiding the need for debt collection agencies to get involved.

Gary Gilburd, CEO of West Midlands-based Sigma, said: “Our Reach:Out team was set up to support, help, and guide customers who are struggling to pay their utility bills, directing them to companies able to provide the essential help and advise the need.

“However, the Coronavirus pandemic has unfortunately meant a lot more people are falling into debt as job vacancies dry up and employers are forced to make redundancies.

“The very last thing anyone wants is to be passed on to a debt collection agency, but suppliers also have their own costs to meet and have to be paid.

“With the Reach:Out programme we’re working with people who have stopped engaging to get them the help and support they need. The advisers we have hand-picked for this task are approachable, sympathetic, supportive and non-judgmental. That’s been a vital part of the initiative’s success and we look forward to helping hundreds more in the months ahead.”

Mr Gilburd added that the initiative is currently delivering fantastic results to utility suppliers, and there are plans for it to be expanded into Financial Services and other sectors where customers experience debt and would benefit from such support.

The success of Sigma’s initiative also comes as regulator Ofgem announced it was introducing new licensing rules for energy suppliers to help strengthen protections for customers this winter.

People in debt are referred to organisations that can help, such as Step Change, Citizens Advice or given advice on how to contact relevant support groups such Samaritans, Drinkaware or Mind.

Sigma celebrates its tenth anniversary next year and has won multiple industry awards since it was co-founded by Mr Gilburd and chief operating officer Mike Harfield in 2011. It now counts 14 UK energy providers as customers.