Households up and down the country already knew they were getting ripped off on their energy bills, but on Tuesday 7th July the independent Competition and Markets Authority confirmed it. Their report showed that households have been overcharged by more than a billion pounds a year by the Big Six energy companies. Over the last four years the Labour Party consistently fought for reforms to the energy market which would have brought prices down. Sadly 6,456 households here in Brent Central are living in fuel poverty and the time has come to put that right.
The only firm action this Government has taken since coming into office is to write a letter to the Big Six energy companies asking for prices to be cut – but there have been no significant reductions in bills despite wholesale energy costs being at the lowest level for five years!
We need to see the Government make the necessary changes in the energy market to stop people being ripped off. They might not want to take action for fear of admitting they were wrong, but consumers have an ally in the Labour party.
Dawn Butler has also launched a campaign specifically tackling the costs of prepayment meters, which see those consumers on the highest tariffs. 21% of Londoners have prepayment meters installed in their homes, of which 80% of those were installed due to consumers falling into arrears.
As prepayment meters are completely managed by the consumer, paying their fuel bills on a pay as you go basis, it seems inexplicable that this method should come at a premium cost, 5.2% higher for electricity and 5.5% higher for gas.
Dawn tabled the Early Day Motion 238 on the 2nd July which asks:
That this House notes the recent Ofgem report calling on all energy suppliers to treat prepayment meter (PPM) customers fairly; further notes that households need more support in switching to different tariffs and method of supply; believes that companies should abolish the charge for installing PPMs as this adds to debt and investigate the best way to establish a price to beat so that consumers can trust the price they pay is fair; further notes that energy companies apply through the courts for warrants to transfer customers with fuel debt on to PPMs, the very people who are least able to afford high tariffs; further believes that meters should not be routinely used to pay off debt as this leads to self-disconnection; further believes that stronger safeguards are required for the issue of warrants and the authority forcibly to install PPMs where households include vulnerable children or adults; and further notes that the expansion of smart meters into homes presents safeguarding challenges to avoid homes being put at risk of disconnection by a simple click of a mouse.
So far Dawn has the backing of MPs from all sides and last Thursday raised the campaign in the Business of the House to request a debate in the chamber. The minister, Chris Grayling, replied:
I commend the hon. Lady for the work she is doing on this issue. Of course it is right and proper that energy companies should take into account the pressures that some people in our society are facing. I will ensure that her concerns are drawn to the attention of my colleagues, and I know that she will take advantage of the opportunities that the House provides to continue to raise her concerns.
Dawn said “I pledged very early on in my general election campaign that I would campaign for fair tariffs for all consumers, especially to protect those most vulnerable in our society. It is a scandal that over 12% of households in Brent are suffering from fuel poverty in this day and age.
Prepayment meters are an affront to any kind of progress and support for fuel poor homes, they pay the highest tariff, are sometimes even charged installation fees on top of their existing debt and have very little support from avoiding self-disconnection.
There are many groups in Brent that provide support for these homes like Energy Solutions, but government cuts to local government funding is directly impacting the support they receive to keep these vital services going.
Rather than cutting even further we need to invest in making our homes more energy efficient and provide cheaper and more affordable tariffs to all. As for every £1 invested in improving our homes saves the NHS £70 over 10 years.”