MACASKILL TO INTRODUCE BILL TO ABOLISH HIGHER STANDARD CHARGES FOR PRE PAYMENT METER CUSTOMERS
Kenny MacAskill MP, the ALBA MP for East Lothian will today (Wednesday) introduce a Ten Minute Rule Energy Costs (Pre-payment Meters and Social Tariffs) Bill to abolish higher standing charges for pre-payment meter customers and to compel energy companies to introduce a social tariff as happens in other countries.
Fuel poverty campaign groups Energy Action Scotland who work in Scotland and National Energy Action, who operate in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and Age Scotland who advocate and campaign on behalf of older people in Scotland are all backing the Bill.
The Bill which would cover the whole of Great Britain has the cross party support of MPs from four parties and one independent MP. The Bill is being sponsored by: Neale Hanvey MP (ALBA Party); Richard Burgon MP (Labour); Angus Brendan MacNeil MP (SNP); Alistair Carmichael MP (Liberal Democrat); Liz Saville Roberts MP (Plaid Cymru); Margaret Ferrier MP (Independent); and Alison Thewliss MP (SNP).
Introducing the Bill Kenny MacAskill MP will state:
I beg to move that leave be given to bring in a bill to abolish higher standing charges for customers with pre-payment meters; to require energy companies to provide social tariffs for low-income customers; and for connected purposes.
Energy Costs are the social and economic issue of our time. Yet the steps taken to mitigate the pain of rises is far from adequate. Fuel poverty is soaring, and winter is nearing.
That Scotland which is Energy Rich should find over half its people Fuel Poor is absurd and the pain is likewise felt south of the border. Even if the climate is less severe and the natural bounty less kind. Additional action is therefore required across the country and urgently. Especially for those most desperate and most vulnerable.
The additional £2500 isn’t a cap but the average cost. Past support has provided modest finance, but which has been inadequate for most to keep pace with soaring costs. Fear is turning to horror as bills escalate and the knowledge that even this support is only there until April.
Beyond the Government soundbites hardship remains and the cost of energy will bite many severely, if not devour them.
Anomalies and injustices remain which must cease. The most appalling is the perversity of Pre-Payment Meters having higher standing charges.
A social tariff for those poorest and most vulnerable, as exists in many other countries, must also be introduced. That is what lies at the heart of this Bill.
It’s supported by both Energy Action Scotland and National Energy Action who know the fuel poverty faced by those whose interests they represent as well as by Age Scotland who advocate on behalf of older people. I’m grateful for their endorsement.
Scotland is disproportionally affected with some 500,000 Pre-Payment Meters but across Britain it’s still significant with 4 million households having higher costs imposed by PPMs.
Action to address these injustices is both right and necessary as fuel and energy are not luxuries but necessities. Their implications in our modern society go far beyond heating your home. Power and energy are required for so many basic aspects of our life. The inability to provide them undermines the ability to function in our society or to maintain dignity and self-respect.
Of course, a new euphemism has entered our lexicon. That’s the phrase self-disconnection. It’s misleading, it’s insidious. It’s akin to those other phrases that are meant to hide horror or injustice such as collateral damage, when what’s meant is the killing of innocent civilians.
What does self-disconnection mean in reality? It isn’t someone who simply chooses not to switch on the heating. Nor is it referring to the past generational, though no doubt fast returning, parental demands to switch off lights or turn off the shower.
Instead, it’s the situation which many now find themselves in where they simply cannot afford to switch on either through buying a power card or simply turning on the heating or any other powered appliance.
It’s not voluntary. It may not be imposed through any law or enforced at the barrel of a gun. But it’s forced upon them through circumstances over which they have no control.
And it is why this Bill and the actions it requires is necessary. For disconnection or more likely self-disconnection has widespread implications which are horrific yet masked by benign euphemisms.
It’s not simply the horror of choosing between heating and eating this winter. That alone is bad enough. But the implications of being unable to access power go far beyond that.
It’s the mother who wishes to wash her children’s clothes for school, so she can keep them clean and smart.
It’s the youngster that needs to charge their phone to access employment opportunities that they desperately seek.
It’s the parent who wants to power up the Ipad given by the school so that their child can improve their education and hence their life chances.
It’s the Dialysis patient who requires to switch on the machine they require for life itself. Never mind others suffering from cancer or sick from other illnesses and who feel the cold more. Yet are unable to provide or even denied that modest comfort during convalescence or even shamefully at end of life.
Compounding that injustice are accrued standing charges even when users have been sparing in their consumption. Many will find that their power card or savings are immediately consumed by paying debt before they even get a modicum of power.
As I said fuel and energy costs are about more than just heating or eating. They’re about dignity, they’re about opportunity, they’re about life itself.
This has not come about through some climatic disaster as has tragically afflicted Pakistan. Nor can it be blamed solely on Putin and war in Ukraine. These are policy issues overseen by the UK Government and where injustice and iniquity has been allowed to take root.
Much of that can be addressed by the ending of higher standing charges for Pre-Payment Meters, and through the implementation of a social tariff for those with least and most vulnerable. After all it is not just unjust but perverse that those with least should pay most for energy. Especially when those with most are paying least in their tax burden.
I accept that some have found Pre-Payment meters helpful for budgeting.
Although the strength of that argument has been sapped, if not ended by the arrival of Smart Meters. There’s also the situation of private landlords who wish to ensure that they avoid costs, if a tenant should depart without paying their bill.
Again, Smart Meters offer some solution but again the issue isn’t the meter itself, but the tariff charged. 13% of smart meters are on Pre-payment tariffs. Technology is meant to liberate us not perpetuate injustice.
Pre-Payment Meters whether smart or otherwise can remain. What must end are the higher standing charges and tariffs. They are simply unacceptable, anytime but most especially now.
Both OFGEM and energy suppliers testify to the technical capacity to make that change. What is required is the political will which is why I’ve proposed this Bill and it has widespread support within and without Parliament.
It would of course require a very modest tariff increase for those paying on credit. But the numbers involved, and the amount of energy consumed through PPMs, make it a very small burden upon those of us more fortunate.
Likewise, a social tariff is a concept whose time has come. Ending the burden on those poorest and most vulnerable through changes to PPM tariffs must be matched by the availability of a social tariff.
One where those poorest and most vulnerable can access energy and at affordable rates. It is a concept that has the support of those organizations I mentioned already with regard to action on Pre-Payment Meters, Energy Action Scotland, Age Scotland and National Energy Action.
But it’s also a concept argued for by the Fuel Bank Foundation and Fair by Design. Again, organizations working at the heart of those whom the fuel and energy crisis is hitting hardest.
It’s not impossible let alone unheard of. Even before the current energy crisis and emergency measures being invoked other countries provided for the poorest and most vulnerable. A federal law in Belgium “protected residential consumers with low income or precarious situation”.
That social tariff saw almost 10% of electricity users pay 34% less and a similar figure of users for gas pay between 38 and 48% less. Those were the poorest and most vulnerable and certainly those facing the most acute need and difficulties. There the social tariff covers:
- People receiving minimum income benefits.
- People receiving an income replacement benefit.
- People with disabilities receiving integrated support and older people in receipt of an income guarantee benefit.
Who would quibble with those priorities or dispute that those people have additional need for fuel and energy which requires that they be charged on a tariff that recognizes that?
Belgium isn’t alone in operating a social tariff.
Again, even before this crisis Spain provided a social bonus scheme whereby a 25% discount was available on electricity bills for “vulnerable” energy customers including disabled customers, with a 40% discount for “severely disabled consumers.
Other countries also take the appropriate action even if criteria, eligibility and amount may vary. But the urgent need remains, that in this time of crisis, those poorest and most vulnerable require most support and should pay the lowest tariffs. That and the injustice of higher charges being imposed upon them must end.
It’s why this Bill is necessary. Energy, fuel and power are fundamental to our lives. They must be available and most importantly affordable to all. The steps taken by Government so far are inadequate and the needs and iniquities remain.
That Scotland is Energy Rich, yet Scots are fuel poor is absurd, that it should be replicated across the UK is shameful. Worsening that is the perversity that those poorest and most vulnerable pay most.
That must end and this Bill will ensure that.
I beg leave to move.