Posted: Sun 10th Dec 2023

Jack Sargeant Column: The prepayment meter scandal OFGEM and standing charges in North Wales

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Sunday, Dec 10th, 2023

Alyn and Deeside MS Jack Sargeant writes a regular column on Deeside.com

This week Jack writes ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​about the failure of energy suppliers, OFGEM (the UK’s energy regulator), and the UK Government to protect vulnerable customers, particularly in the context of prepayment meters:

“Nothing focuses the mind on heating costs quite like a cold snap.  Many of you will know that is not the case with me.  I regularly set out my frustrations and anger about how poor practices from energy suppliers’ impact on customers in Wales.

“Last week as Chair of the Senedd Petitions Committee I launched our report into the prepayment meter scandal that developed last winter.  The continued failure of suppliers, OFGEM and the UK Government to protect vulnerable consumers is indefensible.  OFGEMS new code of conduct is too weak, leaving so many vulnerable customers at risk of being forcibly switched to a prepayment meter.

“I had it confirmed by OFGEM that they are content for the decision on whether a customer is unsuitable to be switched because of vulnerability to be taken by debt collectors.  This is staggering.  You can read the full report here https://senedd.wales/media/lu4ly2ck/cr-ld16181-e.pdf

“Prepayment meters are not the only area where energy suppliers are badly letting down residents in Wales, particularly north Wales.  Standing charges are extremely unfair and in my view unjustified.  Electricity customers in north Wales pay the highest standing charges anywhere in the UK.  Practically, this means that billionaires in London pay £70 a year less in standing charges that residents in Connah’s Quay and Buckley – the UK Government has the power to act on this and has done nothing.  How can this be right?  Residents in north Wales are being pushed into fuel poverty by these standing charges.

“All this is happening at a time when energy suppliers are announcing record profits.  British Gas, the supplier side of Centrica announced huge profits earlier this year.  We need a serious rethink.  Three things the UK Government could do quickly and at almost zero cost are:

  • Legislate to give a named minister the power to ban the forced installation of prepayment meters. When a ban was needed earlier this year, we relied on the goodwill of energy companies.
  • Introduce a social tariff. A social tariff on energy is a discounted energy bill. It’s targeted at those facing high energy costs. This includes disabled people, their carers, and older people struggling with bills.
  • Legislate to make it unlawful to cut people off from energy supply.  This was done with water in the late 90s and has not led to a significant increase in non-payment of bills.

“At the moment, our energy market and its regulator OFGEM are set up to guarantee the profits and protect energy suppliers.  It would seem obvious in a cost-of-living crisis that this is extremely dangerous.  The UK Government created this crisis and our broken energy market.  It is high time they put residents ahead of the rampant profiteering of suppliers. ”

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