This week on behalf of local residents, I have written to Grant Shapps, the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, calling for him to toughen the rules on forced prepayment installation.
On Wednesday, Ofgem – the regulator for energy companies – announced that energy companies had agreed to a new Code of Conduct with Ofgem on forced prepayment installation, the shocking practice of forcibly entering homes to install prepayment meters in the homes of the most vulnerable people.
Often this means people are essentially disconnected from their energy supplies, as they can’t afford the payments or even can’t physically use the meters. Research by Citizens Advice has found that 3.2 million people across Great Britain ran out of credit on their prepayment meter last year because they couldn’t afford to top up.
This should have been an opportunity for energy suppliers and the Government to turn over a new leaf, marking an end to the prepayment scandal.
But this announcement means that only a very limited number of vulnerable households will be protected from forced prepayment installation. This includes people dependent on medical equipment which requires continuous power, the over 85s, and those suffering from a terminal illness
But the new Code of Conduct doesn’t even protect those its report calls ‘medium risk’. The ’medium risk’ category includes single parents with the youngest children, over 75, severe medical conditions like Parkinson’s, Osteoporosis or Alzheimer’s, pregnant women and the recently bereaved.
These groups are among the most vulnerable in our society and need to be better protected. It would be the bare minimum to extend the ban on forced installation of prepayment meters to these groups.
This issue was the subject of a Citizens Advice Bureau report in January. In a debate that Labour secured in Parliament when it was published, I called for the Government to end the poverty premium on prepayment meters – charging higher rates for prepayment customers than for those on fixed contracts. In response to the pressure I exerted along with MPs from across political parties, the Government agreed to cap the rates prepayment customers paid – a big U-turn the Tories were forced into.
In January, Labour called for an immediate review of energy vulnerability, led by consumer affairs organisations like Citizens Advice and Which instead of the energy companies which started this crisis.
The Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero promised then to protect the most vulnerable from forced installation. It’s clear he’s broken that promise.
We need long term solutions, like Labour’s plan to cut bills once and for all and make Britain a clean energy superpower by 2030, with cheaper, cleaner, homegrown power for the British people. This would be a marked contrast to the way the Tories are governing, with sticking-plaster policies as we lurch from one crisis to the next.
Britain’s energy bills are too high and our energy system is too broken after thirteen years of Conservative failure. It can’t go on like this – we need to build fairness for all into our energy system. And as oil and gas companies have made billions in excess profits on the back of high energy bills, protecting the most vulnerable in society from having their energy supply threatened is surely a no brainer and a vital step for the Government to take.