Posted: Thu 7th Mar 2024

Alyn and Deeside MS slams OFGEM for not responding to critical report on the prepayment meter scandal

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales

Jack Sargeant MS, Chair of the Senedd’s Petitions Committee, has strongly criticised the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (OFGEM) for not responding to a critical report on the prepayment meter scandal.

Despite setting an extended deadline, OFGEM has remained silent, exacerbating concerns among Senedd Members and advocacy groups about the forced installation of meters and the hike in standing charges.

The report, published by the Petitions Committee in November last year, outlined several recommendations aimed at safeguarding vulnerable customers from being unfairly switched to prepayment meters.

Despite recent OFGEM guidelines intended to protect these customers, Mr. Sargeant and others argue that significant loopholes remain, posing a dire risk to those least able to cope.

Adding to the controversy is OFGEM and the UK Government’s decision to allow an increase in standing charges, pushing more residents into poverty.

This issue was prominently raised by Carolyn Thomas MS, spotlighting the disproportionate impact on North Wales, where residents face the UK’s highest charges.

In a question to the Minister for Social Justice, Jane Hutt, Jack Sargeant said:

“I’ve stated a number of times in this Chamber my concerns about the new code OFGEM have introduced, and despite the spin by OFGEM and the stories running that these new rules are strict new rules, the reality is that there is nothing strict or tough about them.”

“The disability charity, Scope, has recently said that there are serious gaps in the new code, meaning that vulnerable people could still be forced onto prepayment meters.”

“Minister, I’m grateful to you for mentioning the Petitions Committee report in your earlier response. We made a series of recommendations to Welsh Government and to OFGEM.”

“I’m grateful that the Welsh Government accepted all of them, and one in principle, from the committee report, however, OFGEM, many months later, have now missed their own extended deadline to provide a response to the committee.”

“Will you use your office in Welsh Government to raise this matter directly with OFGEM? And do you agree with me, Minister, that this is no way to treat a parliamentary inquiry?”

Jane Hutt responded:

“This is no way to treat a parliamentary inquiry, and it’s unacceptable that OFGEM has failed to provide that prompt response to the committee, which we have pressed for again today.”

“Because we need confidence that OFGEM is actually treating the Senedd with equal respect to Westminster.”

“I did meet the new OFGEM chair on 19 December in Cardiff, in their office. I met him and particularly raised the issues that, of course, are the subject of your report in terms of how we were going to monitor the situation closely to ensure that the rules surrounding the fact that energy suppliers can recommence forced installation of prepayment meters—that the rules are actually being monitored carefully and that eligible households are protected.”

“Now, the fact that we have a Petitions Committee, the fact we have your leadership, Jack Sargeant, on this issue, and we’ve had that report, I mean, OFGEM should be paying more attention to what we’re doing here in Wales.”

“And can I just say one quick thing, Deputy Llywydd? I recently met the Enforcement Conduct Board, and I know colleagues in the Chamber will be aware that because of their engagement with Wales, all local authorities now have to use accredited debt collectors.”

“I heard this on some programme, just, you know, one day, driving through my constituency, where they were saying, where every local authority—it’s a bit like our charter—have signed up to the Enforcement Conduct Board.”

“That’s not happening anywhere else; but we. Also, I’m going to take the Enforcement Conduct Board to a meeting with energy suppliers soon because I think they should only be using accredited debt collectors.”

“Dŵr Cymru (Welsh Water) is already using accredited debt collectors.”

“So, we’ve managed to have that kind of power and influence thanks to Jack Sargeant and his committee; but it is important we recognise that energy suppliers are.”

“We’re disappointed that they can now go back to forced installation of prepayment meters.”

“We’ve called for a ban on involuntary installation and we know how that has revealed the impact it had on the most vulnerable people’s lives.”

Carolyn Thomas asked:

“Although the overall energy price cap has fallen, it’s a total disgrace that the standing charges, which hit those in fuel poverty the most, have been allowed to increase.”

“Standing charges also disproportionately impact my residents in North Wales, who are subject to the highest standing charges in the UK, and will be paying over £95 more than those in London. Minister, may I ask what plans you have to make representations to the UK Westminster Government regarding the significant injustice that’s happening?”

The Minister responded:

“Thank you for drawing attention to this injustice, particularly for your constituents in North Wales.”

“There are two issues with standing charges—the postcode lottery around the amounts charged, and the fact that costs are applied even when people have used very little or no electricity.”

“So, we have regularly called for urgent reform of standing charges with UK Ministers.”

“There is an OFGEM consultation. I’ve had meetings in person, and also with the UK Minister for Energy Consumers and Affordability, and also with the new OFGEM chair. But it is North Wales.”

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