Winter’s coming, the clocks are about to go back and there’s been a cold chill in the air. That’s normally just part of nature’s cycle. I’m one of those folks who happen to enjoy our seasons and for whom a perpetual summer sun has no allure.
This year though with fuel costs going through the roof, it’s not a matter of whether you share that view but whether you can keep warm, maintain dignity or even life itself. It’s not just whether you can heat or eat, but wash the kids’ clothes, keep the phone charged for work or even keep the dialysis machine. These aren’t luxuries but necessities.
It’s why last week I used a Westminster procedure of a Ten-Minute Rule bill to call for legislation on Energy Costs and specifically to end the higher standing charges on Pre-Payment Meters (PPMs) and bring in a social tariff for those poorest and most vulnerable.
I doubt my calls will be heeded but all it actually takes is a stroke of a ministerial pen. A direction to OFGEM would probably suffice and could be in force before the price cap ends next April. Getting to then will be hard enough, if not impossible for many and a worsening is simply inconceivable.
Pre-payment Meters themselves can stay. Some like them for budgeting and landlords seek them to avoid unpaid bills. But there’s no reason to have the cruelty of higher standing charges loaded onto them. The numbers suffering are considerable and are disproportionately in Scotland. The number of households reckoned to be 500,000 here and 4 million across Britain.
Smart meters which should be helpful are in fact compounding the agony. According to a parliamentary question I asked 13% of Smart Meters are set at a PPM tariff. Technology is supposed to liberate us not perpetuate injustice. A modest increase for those of us on standard credit bills would end this perversity.
Similarly, it’s time that those poorest and most vulnerable were provided with a lower tariff. Belgium, Spain and other countries were doing so before this current crisis arose. It’s now time it was brought in here. In Belgium the poorest 10% saw energy costs reduced significantly and its replicated elsewhere.
The bill might not proceed but the action most certainly should.