Dawn in Parliament: See what Dawn gets up to in the House of Commons

Questions to Energy & Climate Change Secretary of State Amber Rudd MP

At Energy & Climate Change questions in the Commons on Thursday 24th March, I asked the Secretary of State what she will do to ensure smart meters are rolled out to vulnerable customers first without delay and how she is encouraging more transparency in the energy sector.

Dawn questions Amber Rudd - Secretary of State for Energy & Climate Change

Questions to Energy & Climate Change Secretary of State Amber Rudd MP At Energy & Climate Change questions in the Commons on Thursday 24th March, I asked the Secretary of...

Dawn helped secure a Westminster Hall debate on Thursday 17th March to discuss Cabin Air Safety/Aerotoxic Syndrome.

Here are Dawn's contributions to the debate:

Dawn: I should declare that I have a few friends in the airline industry, and I also take the occasional flight, so toxic air on planes is of interest to me. I am also a member of Unite and GMB. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) for his excellent opening speech.

One of my friends who works in the airline industry consistently has hay fever-like symptoms all year round, even when there is no pollen in the air. Having listened to the debate so far, I wonder whether some of that might be a symptom of his working environment. I, too, am no expert on this issue, but I have read through some of the paperwork and information that was presented to me. A 2011 report by Cranfield University for the Department for Transport found that there were no pollutants in aircraft exceeding the available health and safety standards, but those standards are measured differently. They are measured with regard to those of us on the ground and do not take into consideration people in an aircraft at high altitude, where pollutants will obviously have a different effect. It worries me that there is no proper measure of what exactly is going on in aircraft.

As has been mentioned, the European Aviation Safety Agency will be reporting in October 2016 on the suitable implementation of measures to tackle the problem. It is great that we have heard from the Minister that the Boeing 787 Dreamliner’s new design is not only to avoid contaminating the air supply. As I understand it, the bleed-free design was introduced in the ’50s and ’60s because it delivered a considerable reduction in fuel consumption. It was considered good for the overall environment because it used less fuel to fly.

It is strange that the cumulative effect of pollutants in aircraft on those working in the industry has yet to be measured, because employers have a responsibility to their employees, as is established in law. Cabin crews and pilots deserve to be working in the best possible environment. After all, they ensure that we get from A to B safely and make our journey as pleasant as possible. The least we can do in this House is to ensure that they have a safe working environment.

Dawn: I absolutely agree. It might be a case of asking what we can do to restrict the poisonous fumes and toxic air that are coming into the plane. The airline industry should look into that.

We know that toxins such as carbon monoxide are invisible and odourless, so the only way we can really find out what is going on in an aircraft is to measure what is going on in real time, not after the plane has landed. I do not think that would be too costly. Instead of all the inconclusive reports that have been written, it probably would have made more sense to measure the air on planes in the first instance and do a report based on the findings.

Big industry normally does a cost analysis of how much something costs versus how many people might die as a consequence of certain events. However, the issue is not only the people who tragically die after toxic air situations but those pilots who, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes), end up losing their licence. Having dated a pilot, I know that the constant threat of being tested and the fear of losing their licence is frightening.

The British Airline Pilots Association sought to attract UK airline support for the completely independent US multimillion-dollar Occupational Health Research Consortium in Aviation—a bit of a mouthful—but was given a runaround on the report and was told to go to the Department for Transport. It is strange that the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment produced a report without taking any independent evidence or evidence from Bupa, which initiated the drive for the report. Will the Minister commit, under the Freedom of Information Act, to make public the action that has been taken to address the responses to the report, of Bupa, the Transport and General Workers Union and Unite? We need transparency. We all surely want the same thing: a safe environment for crew members and travellers. It would therefore be a good thing to disclose under the Freedom of Information Act everything that has happened.

Previous Governments also failed on this issue, but given that experiences are being shared online and on social media, the situation has become urgent. As we have heard, Unite is pursuing several cases. Employers have a duty of care to their employees, which means that they should not just address whether such substances exist but, as has been said, prevent leakages into the air cabin.

Much has been said about the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. It is great that the technology is moving forward. The Dreamliner does not use the bleed-air system, so this problem will not occur. The Government cannot force people to purchase such aeroplanes, so what can we do to make the work environment safer until all airlines roll out aeroplanes that do not use the bleed-air system?

I call on the Minister to ensure that the UK stipulates that a cabin air monitoring and detection system must be installed in any aircraft with bleed technology. Airline companies should be obliged to release the data unedited, so that the problem can be fully investigated. I am concerned about the health of cabin crews, pilots and friends and family members who fly.

Dawn: The Bournemouth coroner, in respect of Mr Westgate, issued a regulation 28 report to prevent future deaths under the Coroners (Investigations) Regulations 2013 in relation to both British Airways and the CAA on 16 February 2015. In it he states:

“In my opinion urgent action should be taken to prevent future deaths and I believe that your organisation has the power to take such action.”

Is that part of your consideration?

Dawn: To pick up on that point, there are also some toxins that one cannot smell, so is not the way to gather the empirical evidence, as has been said, just to monitor what is going on in the aircraft at the time? The Minister is absolutely right: the airline industry has a culture of reporting the errors or mistakes that people make, so that it can improve its system. However, that is exactly what is not happening with these incidents, because they are not being monitored.

Dawn speaks in the Cabin Air Safety/Aerotoxic Syndrome debate in Westminster Hall

Dawn helped secure a Westminster Hall debate on Thursday 17th March to discuss Cabin Air Safety/Aerotoxic Syndrome. Here are Dawn's contributions to the debate: Dawn: I should declare that I have...

Dawn questions the government on the Welfare Cap.

Dawn Butler: There is increasing evidence that this policy will cost the public purse more. Is it not a false economy?

Greg Mulholland: I am absolutely clear that there have been changes to the benefits system that were mistaken, including under the last Government, and I said so at the time. However, I absolutely support the household benefit cap. I do agree, however, that we need a sensible approach, and we must incentivise work and focus social security on those who need it. Those of us who believe passionately in the welfare state—I am sure the hon. Lady does, as do I—must be able to justify it and show that it is helping people who cannot work or are unable to find work. That must be the focus, but it has not been previously.

I am sure the hon. Lady will agree that some of the changes brought in by this Conservative majority Government, without the Liberal Democrats to restrain them, have been mistaken and ideological, particularly the cap on child benefit on the basis of the number of children that someone has, regardless of circumstance. We opposed and stopped such measures, but now people are seeing what a Conservative majority Government with an ideological policy, as opposed to a pragmatic one, will do.

We welcome the fact that the right decision was made on tax credits, and on this occasion it is right to be prepared to breach the welfare cap. In other years we would like that cap to be adhered to, but given current circumstances and the projections for what the change to tax credits will do, this is the right decision, and those on the Treasury Bench should not be criticised for being prepared to breach the welfare cap for that reason in this financial year. That would be playing politics with this issue in the way that the Chancellor did with his ideological nonsense of the fiscal charter, when he sought to stop the Treasury having the flexibility that any Chancellor—and in this case the Secretary of State—must have.

We welcome this U-turn and fully accept the need to breach the welfare cap this year. We hope that the Government will live within their means in future years, but not by balancing the budget on the backs of the poor. We will continue to take a pragmatic approach and oppose anything that we believe is draconian, ideologically driven and unfair. At the same, we hope that the Government will continue in the same vein as the coalition Government, by incentivising people to work, and by getting more people into work with fewer people on benefits. As a civilised society we must ensure that our welfare state continues to help people who are unable to work or who genuinely cannot find it. That is our position and we will continue to make that case.

Dawn speaks on the Welfare Cap debate on 16 December 2015

Dawn questions the government on the Welfare Cap. Dawn Butler: There is increasing evidence that this policy will cost the public purse more. Is it not a false economy? Greg...

Dawn asks if the proposed changes to the Housing and Planning Bill are legitimate.

Dawn Butler: Does the Minister feel that those people who voted Tory at the last election will be surprised by this Housing and Planning Bill?

Brandon Lewis: As it contains two of our key manifesto pledges, on which we are mandated to deliver, I suspect that people will be pleased to see that we are a Government who are getting on and delivering for the people of this country. To take the hon. Lady’s very direct question, the public gave their verdict on the performance of the last Government at two general elections. At the last time of asking, the electorate were offered by the Opposition party a reprise of Labour’s centrally controlled, top-down housing nightmare—land grabs, the mansion tax, rent controls, red tape and restrictions on right to buy.

Dawn speaks on the Housing debate 15 December 2015

Dawn asks if the proposed changes to the Housing and Planning Bill are legitimate. Dawn Butler: Does the Minister feel that those people who voted Tory at the last election...

Dawn criticises the Chancellor as cuts fall heavily on women.

Dawn Butler: Women have borne the brunt of more than 82% of all the Chancellor’s cuts; does my hon. Friend agree that he is every woman’s worst nightmare?

Kate Green: I shall not presume to speak for every woman’s attitude towards the Chancellor, but his policies have certainly been damaging for a substantial number of women.

Dawn speaks in the women and the economy debate 9 December 2015

Dawn criticises the Chancellor as cuts fall heavily on women. Dawn Butler: Women have borne the brunt of more than 82% of all the Chancellor’s cuts; does my hon. Friend...

Dawn leads debate into Pre-Payment meters with The Minister of State for Energy & Climate Change.

Dawn Butler: There is a prediction that we are about to experience the longest winter in 50 years. Now is the time to consider what that will mean for the most vulnerable in our society. We know that in 2014 there were 43,900 excess winter deaths in England and Wales, and if the predictions translate into a long period of harsh weather, that figure could rise for 2015-16 unless we act to mitigate the effects.

The UK Association for the Conservation of Energy estimated that almost 14,000 deaths over the last winter could be due to people living in cold homes. Therefore, the most obvious area where we can act is energy consumption, and particularly the cost of pre-payment meters and how they are put into people’s homes, especially for those already experiencing fuel poverty. If we tackle that issue, we can alleviate part of the problem of excess winter deaths.

More than 2,000 new PPMs are being installed every day. I would like to put on record my thanks to Citizens Advice for its “fair play for prepay” campaign. It is clear from my constituency of Brent Central how unfairly the costs of PPMs bear on poorer residents. My constituency has one of the highest numbers of people on PPMs in the country—at 26%, it is 10% above the national average—and those on PPMs pay on average £226 more a year than those with the cheapest direct debit deals. We can get an idea of the scale of the impact from the fact that it costs £3 million to the local economy.

What is worse is that 80% of PPMs are used to collect debt for the energy companies. So the energy companies subject poor people to higher rates, and there is also the cost of installing PPMs. It is almost as if these people are being punished again and again and again.

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): My hon. Friend is raising an extremely important point, particularly for those of us in London. She says PPMs are being “put into” people’s homes. Is she stating to the House that the people living in these properties have no say in that, and are being forced to accept these PPMs?

Dawn Butler: That is what sometimes happens. Some people come home, as Mr Hamilton in my constituency did, to find a PPM has been installed without their knowledge, which should never happen. It is a disgrace that the energy companies do that.

The poorest 10% spend almost 10% of their total household expenditure on fuel, whereas the figure for the richest 10% is just 3%. That is why fuel poverty is a recognised term. According to Ofgem, those on pre-payment meters pay on average £80 more than those on direct debit. Although that figure has reduced, the differential can be reduced much further. As the Minister will know, the Competition Markets Authority’s provisional findings on the energy market, released this July, raised concerns about the affordability of domestic energy prices, as they have continually outstripped inflation over the past 10 years. Yet, at the same time, standards of service have dropped and complaints have risen.

Under the Labour Government pre-payment bills rose on average by just over £17.50 a year, whereas during the past four years annual bills have risen on average by £63. The Government should make it clear to the big six energy companies that they must reduce the amount that those on pre-payment meters pay for their gas and electricity. After all, these are vulnerable people who can least afford that amount of money and those higher costs.

British Gas has sort of led by way, levelling out the amount its customers on pre-payment meters pay to the same amount as for those on cash and credit, but I have been advised that those paying by direct debit will still be incentivised and pay a little less because of the reflectivity requirements. That is understandable, but more should still be done—all that is needed is the will power of these energy companies.

Stephen Pound: Has my hon. Friend made any calculation about the amount of profit made by the big six energy companies? It seems to me that we have a case of Robin Hood in reverse here: the poorest in our society are having to pay to subsidise the wealthiest. Has she done any work on or made any estimate as to the amount of profit accruing to the big six?

Dawn Butler: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. The big six make about £600 million a year in profit, which is an enormous amount, and they can afford to treat the most vulnerable in our society much better than they do.

Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP): The hon. Lady is making a number of excellent points and I thank her for raising this important issue. I am aware of constituents who are paying more in standing charges for pre-payment meters than they are for the actual energy consumption. That should be regulated a lot more toughly.

Dawn Butler: I agree that the standing charges need to be regulated, as does the whole industry. It can do a lot more, especially given that, as I have said, we are about to enter the longest winter in 50 years.

I urge the Minister to encourage energy companies to follow in the footsteps of ScottishPower, which suspends the debt of its customer during the winter months so that anything they put into the meter goes directly on their usage of fuel. Let me put that into context: my constituent Mr Hamilton would put £5 on his meter and the energy company would take £3, so he had only £2-worth of fuel. If the Minister was able to encourage the energy companies, they could do this straightaway and with very little effort, but it would make a big difference to the people in the country.

As the Minister will know, in 2016, we enter the enduring phase, which will ensure that all meters are smart meters by 2020. Therefore, it is important that we help to inform people who are fuel poor. After all, energy companies will be making £12 million-worth of savings with the implementation of smart meters, so surely we can look after the 2.3 million fuel-poor households in this country. The energy companies are making enough money to be able to look after those who are fuel poor.

I expect the Minister will tell us that energy companies are not allowed to disconnect customers during the winter months, but they still install pre-payment meters, which means that people self-disconnect because they cannot afford to pay. They are, in effect, still being disconnected, they are still getting cold and, unfortunately, some still die.

Stephen Pound: I really am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I will try not to trespass on her patience for much longer. On the subject of disconnection, is she aware that, in some cases, there can be long-distance disconnection? People can be disconnected without a magistrate having to sign an order for the company to enter the premises physically to disconnect. In other words, if it is possible to disconnect a power supply without even entering the premises, one of those vital layers of protection for the consumer, particularly the vulnerable consumer, has been removed.

Dawn Butler: Absolutely. The installation of smart meters will make such remote disconnection even easier to carry out. Energy companies have said that they will not do that, but do we trust them enough to believe them? That is why we must safeguard and protect the most vulnerable in our society. It also means that magistrates have to be given clear information. As a magistrate myself, I can tell Members that we normally get lots of warrants to sign off at the beginning of a sitting. Magistrates clearly ask whether the energy company has gone through all the safeguards with regard to vulnerable adults, people with mental health problems or children at the property. On some occasions, I was not always convinced that the energy company did its due diligence when asking for a warrant to enable it to enter a property forcefully to install a pre-payment meter, which will be more expensive for that person who is least able to pay the bill.

I have talked about the high cost of pre-payment meters and the matter of self- disconnection, which happens quite a lot but which is not often mentioned by the energy companies or by this House. Recent research undertaken by E.ON highlighted that seven in 10 people with pre-payment meters had accidentally self-disconnected even when they were not expected to do so. That is a very high number. Over the winter months, we expect that figure to rise.

Pre-payment meters are being installed way too early in the debt plan. Energy companies are supposed to go through a whole plan of what they can do to help their customer to avoid fuel poverty. As we are entering the enduring phase—smart meters will be rolled out by 2020—surely now is the time to slow down and end the installation of pre-payment meters.

Chris Stephens: I thank the hon. Lady for giving way; she is being very generous. In my experience the fuel regulator has no teeth and is effectively powerless in stopping energy companies installing pre-payment meters early on. Does she agree that the fuel regulator should be given more powers?

Dawn Butler: I agree. Not only should the fuel regulators be given more powers, but a closer eye should be kept on what the energy companies are doing. I also think that the magistrates courts play a huge role in ensuring that the energy companies pass all the necessary tests before installing pre-payment meters. The amount is currently set at something like £150, but £500 is the amount set to stop people from switching to another energy company. The £500 figure should be the figure that an energy company has to reach before applying for a warrant to install a pre-payment meter, because it is just too easy to get such a warrant, which means that the customer plummets into more and more debt, as they cannot afford the amount that they have to pay.

Record profits are being made by the big six energy firms year on year. Does the Minister agree that the increases in charges and complaints are simply not good enough? Further action to protect the consumer, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) mentioned, is necessary.

Does the Minister agree that, when DECC’s own fuel poverty records show that 22% of pre-payment meter users are in fuel poverty, something needs to be done and quickly, especially with winter fast approaching, if we are not already in it? We could well witness a rise in self-disconnections and fuel poverty-related deaths if we do not do something in the next few weeks.

I am sure that the Minister and I are on the same page on this issue. To help her with her response, I would like to summarise some of my requests. It would really help the estimated 11 million people on pre-payment meters if energy companies brought the cost of pre-payment meters into line with those on the cheapest direct debit. It would also add £2.5 billion into the economy. I would also like to see greater protection for vulnerable adults and children when pre-payment meters are installed. That would mean giving clear instructions to the magistrates court. I would like to see no pre-payment meters fitted during the winter months. As previously said, that leads to self-disconnections. So in effect the energy companies are still disconnecting vulnerable people during the winter months. There should be a suspension of debt during the longest winter in 50 years—this year, 2015 leading into 2016. All the above is completely doable, and a letter from the Minister could make it happen.

Lastly, we are all aware that food banks have become a godsend to many in our country and some people would be having a pretty lousy Christmas if it were not for food banks. I wish that they did not have to use them, but that is the situation. I thank the Trussell Trust and E.ON, which have teamed up to provide credit for struggling families who use pre-payment meters. I know that, in my constituency of Brent Central, we will be grateful for their services. I hope that the Minister and I will agree that this country can do more to help those who are fuel poor.

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Andrea Leadsom): I genuinely congratulate the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) on securing this debate on the cost of pre-payment meters. I can assure her that the Government are committed to helping households with their energy bills, and a great deal of the focus in my Department in recent months has been on how to reduce consumer bills for everyone. It is an incredibly important point, and the hon. Lady has made it well.

We know that it is often some of the most vulnerable in our society who can end up with a pre-payment meter. While we are working with Ofgem to provide greater support specifically for those consumers—I will come on to exactly what we are doing on pre-payment meters—it is also important to point out that we have also implemented a range of measures to help vulnerable households to reduce their energy bills, including the warm home discount scheme, which provides direct assistance on energy bills to more than 2 million low-income and vulnerable households each year.

The Government are also determined to help vulnerable consumers take advantage of the best deals available. We know that many vulnerable consumers need additional help and advice to engage with the market and take action to switch and save. That is why DECC has been providing nearly £3 million over the last three years to fund the big energy saving network. The network is designed to help vulnerable consumers take action to reduce their energy costs, with around half of participants reporting that they now spend less on heating their home because of their engagement with the network. It has reached around 220,000 people over the last two years, and we aim to reach a further 100,000 vulnerable consumers this winter.

Helping people to insulate their homes is one of the best ways to help keep energy bills down; 1.3 million homes have benefited from energy efficiency measures, such as insulation and efficient boilers, under the energy company obligation between January 2013 and September 2015. The current phase of ECO will run to March 2017, but in the spending review the Government announced a long-term successor to ECO that will continue for an additional five years from 2017, at £640 million a year, rising with inflation. That new supplier obligation will run from April 2017 to March 2022, reducing the impact of the obligation by around £30 for the average household from 2017-18, compared with current projections. It will also upgrade the energy efficiency of well over 200,000 homes per year, tackling the root cause of fuel poverty. We will set out our plans for the scheme early in the new year.

The hon. Lady has raised a very important issue. A significant proportion of households—about 17%—use pre-payment meters. Although not all pre-payment meter consumers are financially vulnerable, more than 60% of those meters have been installed as a result of debt. For some consumers in difficult circumstances, they offer an alternative to disconnection for non-payment of energy bills, although we recognise that those consumers would rather not be in that situation. Still others prefer pre-payment meters because they find that that allows them to budget for their energy expenditure and to keep track of what they are using. Consumers can build up credit in the summer months to reduce their expenditure over the winter.

We know that paying by pre-payment can be more expensive than paying by direct debit. That is because there are further costs to install pre-payment meters, as well as additional services provided. But there are safeguards in place to prevent suppliers from charging unjustifiably high tariffs for a particular payment method. Suppliers are required to ensure that differences in charges really reflect the costs they face to provide that payment method. Across the market the cost of paying for the energy by pre-payment meter is similar to the cost faced by customers paying by standard credit.

The majority of suppliers offering pre-payment meters do not charge when consumers agree to the installation. That includes the big six energy companies. Other companies, however, as the hon. Lady points out, do pass on the charges they incur from meter operators for installation. These consumers can also face costs to have the meter removed, once they are able to go back to having a credit account. That cost, on average, is between £160 and £180. Ofgem is currently working with suppliers to identify and extend good practice to end charges for installing and removing pre-payment meters.

What should suppliers be doing? We expect to see suppliers meeting the obligations under their licence only to install pre-payment meters where it is safe and reasonably practicable for the consumer to use a pre-payment meter. Suppliers must take into account a customer’s ability to repay when setting instalments to repay gas and/or electricity debt. I am pleased to say that there is evidence to suggest that suppliers are fulfilling this obligation: first, Ofgem keeps weekly repayment rates under review, and they have fallen on average in recent years; and, secondly, the majority of indebted customers are on standard credit, not pre-payment meters, and repay through a variety of means, which suggests that repayment is indeed being tailored more to suit the needs of individual customers.

We know that some customers who are concerned about their energy bills will self-disconnect by deliberately choosing not to top up, meaning that their supply will stop. In those circumstances, it is vital that they seek help from their supplier as soon as possible. I expect suppliers to have in place appropriate arrangements to protect their most vulnerable consumers, and systems to identify any potential problems so that they can be rectified early. The hon. Lady made that point very well.

Dawn Butler: I want to make a couple of points. The rate of complaints about energy companies has increased exponentially because they are not taking into consideration the circumstances of vulnerable people who are unable to heat their homes. With regard to switching, people on pre-payment meters have very little to switch to, so the benefit to them is about 8%, whereas the benefit for those on direct debit is about 22%.

Andrea Leadsom: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising those points. I will certainly look into her first point: she believes there is evidence that suppliers are not taking into account individual circumstances. As I said, I expect suppliers to have appropriate arrangements in place. If she wants to raise individual cases with me, I will look into them. I can tell her that today a dual fuel pre-payment consumer with average consumption living in London could save about £130 by moving to the cheapest dual fuel pre-payment deal in the market. There is merit in switching and I urge all consumers, including those on pre-payment meters, to shop around.

My absolute focus remains on getting the best deal for consumers. I expect suppliers to treat their consumers fairly and we expect suppliers to make sure that any reductions in the costs of supplying energy are passed directly to consumers. Strong competition in the energy supply market is the best way to keep prices down. The Government are committed to ensuring that the market works effectively for consumers.

Chris Stephens: I want to come back to the issue of self-disconnection. Have there been any discussions with her Department and the Department for Work and Pensions about emergency help that can be given to someone in those circumstances?

Andrea Leadsom: Those conversations happen regularly. I will write to the hon. Gentleman with any specific changes that we intend to make or consult on. I absolutely assure him that suppliers are required to take into account consumers’ specific circumstances. Ofgem is looking into the cost of having pre-payment meters removed and whether that should continue for pre-payment consumers.

I move on briefly to the investigation into the retail energy market currently being conducted by the Competition and Markets Authority. The CMA published its provisional findings and remedies in the summer. It found that customers on standard variable tariffs are being charged unjustifiably high prices; the majority of pre-payment customers, of course, are on those standard variable tariffs. We are committed to acting on the CMA’s recommendations and to ensuring fair prices for all consumers, including standard variable tariff customers using pre-payment meters.

The CMA also found that pre-payment customers have fewer tariffs to choose from than customers paying by direct debit. There are indications, though, that that is beginning to change. We are starting to see the development of smart pre-pay meters. E.ON is currently piloting a smart pay-as-you-go tariff for consumers using a smart pre-payment meter who then pay the same prices as the company’s standard credit customers. It expects to make the tariff more widely available to new and existing customers from next year.

With OVO’s pay-as-you-go tariff, pre-payment meter consumers receive an in-home display that enables them to see how much energy they are using and when, and how much credit they have left. Consumers can also add credit to their pre-payment meter anywhere via app, text or online. We are also seeing examples of good practice by suppliers. For example, there is SSE’s support for its vulnerable pre-payment consumers that includes monitoring those on the priority services register to identify self-disconnection. The company will then call the consumer to check the situation and to make the offer of extra assistance, where appropriate.

The Government have a manifesto commitment to“ensure that every home and business in the country has a Smart Meter by 2020, delivered as cost effectively as possible”.

The roll-out of smart meters is an important national modernisation programme that will bring major benefits to consumers and the nation as a whole. Domestic customers will be offered an in-home display enabling them to see what energy they are using and how much it is costing.

Smart meters have the potential to transform the experience of being a pre-payment customer. Customers can top up more conveniently through a range of channels. Topping up smart meters in pre-pay mode should become as easy as topping up a mobile phone. They are likely to herald greater and cheaper tariff choices for these customers, as the cost differential will be reduced. Smart meters will enable energy suppliers remotely to take action to avoid disconnection—for example, through switching consumers to credit mode, setting non-disablement periods, and configuring debt recovery amounts to be small.

A customer’s ability to pay their energy costs while keeping warm is among the top concerns of my Department, and we are fully committed to tackling these issues through a range of innovative policies. I thank the hon. Lady and the other hon. Members who contributed to this very important debate.

Dawn speaks in the Pre-Pay meters debate 1 December 2015

Dawn leads debate into Pre-Payment meters with The Minister of State for Energy & Climate Change. Dawn Butler: There is a prediction that we are about to experience the longest...

Dawn speaks against Jeremy Hunt in the Junior Doctors contract debate.

Dawn Butler: The Secretary of State has failed. He has failed patients, he has failed junior doctors, and he has failed his Government. He says that people should put aside suspicion. I suspect that the reason he did not agree to meet ACAS sooner was so that he could sneak in the announcement during the autumn statement.

Mr Hunt: Let me tell the hon. Lady what the failure was: it was setting up a contract for junior doctors in 2003 that has made it impossible for hospitals to roster proper care at weekends. The duty of a Secretary of State is to put right those historical wrongs so that patients are safe.

Dawn speaks on the Junior Doctors contract debate 30 November 2015

Dawn speaks against Jeremy Hunt in the Junior Doctors contract debate. Dawn Butler: The Secretary of State has failed. He has failed patients, he has failed junior doctors, and he...

Dawn spoke on the Community and Voluntary Sector funding debate to highlight Brent charities.

Dawn: I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. On the issue of sustainability and the need for charities, I want to mention two charities in my constituency. First, given that this will be the coldest and longest winter in 40 years, the services that Energy Solutions provides to the community are essential. Secondly, although World AIDS Day is coming up on 1 December, the Community Health Action Trust has had its funding cut, which means that it can no longer serve the community and test people rapidly for HIV, which is on the increase among heterosexuals.

Naz Shah: My hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) makes a valid point. We are seeing that theme across the country. The £2.3 billion reduction in Government funding is interesting. It will come through a number of streams, because the third sector has a symbiotic relationship with many Government-funded organisations, not least local councils, whose budgets have been decimated by austerity. However, the wider point is that the Government have been unable to build the third sector’s capacity to apply for more complicated contracts through increasingly complex and larger tendering processes.

Dawn speaks on the Community and Voluntary Sector funding debate on 24 November 2015

Dawn spoke on the Community and Voluntary Sector funding debate to highlight Brent charities. Dawn: I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. On the issue of sustainability and...

Dawn spoke against proposed ballot changes in the Trade Union Bill.

Oliver Dowden: The hon. Gentleman keeps saying that the Bill is ideological. Is it ideological for people who send their children to schools in my constituency who cannot get childcare during an unjustified strike with a very low turnout in a ballot? Is it ideological for hard-pressed commuters in my constituency who cannot get to work because of strikes called on ballots with low turnouts?

Dawn Butler: The contribution from the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Oliver Dowden) highlights the lack of understanding of the role of trade unions and of people who are working just to pay their bills. That lack of understanding shows why this Bill is so wrong.

Dawn speaks on the Trade Union Bill 10 November 2015

Dawn spoke against proposed ballot changes in the Trade Union Bill. Oliver Dowden: The hon. Gentleman keeps saying that the Bill is ideological. Is it ideological for people who send...

Dawn spoke in the Policing debate on the cuts to safer neighbourhood teams in Brent.

Dawn speaks on the Policing debate 4 November 2015

Dawn spoke in the Policing debate on the cuts to safer neighbourhood teams in Brent. Read more

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