After gas and electricity were privatised around 30 years ago, Ofgem was set up as a regulator to make sure that the private companies remained accountable to the public, to some degree. Ofgem’s “standard licence conditions” impose quite a lot of obligations on these companies, and monitor customer service. They also have the power to cap prices, and have done so.
But the fact remains that many people just cannot afford their bills, and when you cannot pay you normally get put on a Prepayment Meter. Then you have to keep the meter topped up — it cuts off your power or your gas as soon as credit runs out. And ofen you can’t get it back on until you can pay off “standing charges” that accumulate even when you’re using no heat or power. This plays havoc with people’s health, prospects, and relationships, and contributes to this country’s 10,000 deaths a year due to cold homes.
Recently, Ofgem has been consulting about what protections should be in place to prevent that happening. Ofgem refers to “self-disconnection” as if we were cutting ourselves off by choice. But while the name is problematic, there are proposals for some good new license conditions.
Fuel Poverty Action has now responded to this consultation. We hope this response will help establish some basic principles to prevent people going without the energy we need. It will be published on Ofgem’s website, and in the meantime it can be found with our other consultation responses, here. Ofgem’s recommendations will be published later this year, but they will not be the last ones. As the crisis of fuel poverty grows, stronger action will be needed.
Among other things, we press for suppliers to take it into account when people have exceptional needs for electric power, for instance because of district heating or heat pumps that do not perform as promised, or because the cladding and insulation have been removed from their tower blocks.
The Supply Licence Conditions & Guaranteed Standards of Performance run into hundreds of pages. Suppliers are fined sums large and small for serious and trivial breaches, of vast numbers of rules. Ofgem has powers to prohibit the ultimate sanction that suppliers wield to get bills paid: disconnection and so-called ‘self-disconnection’, We think that is urgent for this coming winter and the hard times ahead.
Have a look here to see what we recommend.