The authorities ought to introduce a “social tariff” guaranteeing cheaper vitality to weak customers who can not afford their primary wants, the chief govt of regulator Ofgem has mentioned.
Speaking as Ofgem launched an investigation into vitality suppliers imposing prepayment meters on struggling households, Jonathan Brearley mentioned the present high-cost vitality market left some households merely unable to pay.
Ofgem’s investigation comes after Business Secretary Grant Shapps wrote to vitality suppliers elevating considerations over a rise in prospects compelled to maneuver to prepay meters having fallen behind on common funds.
Companies might face authorized motion if Ofgem determines they’ve moved prospects to prepayment with out exploring different choices to help them.
Mr Brearley mentioned motion was wanted to deal with the basic downside brought on by the tripling of fuel costs within the final 12 months.
“There are families that can’t afford to pay their energy bills and we will be active with companies to examine how they deal with those who fall into arrears,” Mr Brearley mentioned.
“But the root cause is that some customers, despite enormous widespread support from the government, don’t have the ability to pay for their basic energy needs.
“We assume there is a case to look at with urgency a social tariff that limits the impression of extraordinarily excessive costs, which reduces the volatility for an outlined set of weak teams.”
Mr Brearley said the tariff would have to be subsidised during periods of high energy prices, and otherwise paid for with “funds raised in a progressive means”, adding that “vitality payments will not be a progressive tax base”.
His intervention comes after charities referred to as on Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to think about a social tariff to deal with the rising variety of individuals for whom vitality is changing into unaffordable.
Citizens Advice estimates 3.2 million prospects have been left in chilly and darkish properties final 12 months after working out of credit score.
Mandatory prepayment meters are meant as a final resort for purchasers who suppliers consider are refusing to pay somewhat than merely unable and may solely be used after exploring the monetary assist accessible.
Concerns over spike in prepayment meter warrants
Ofgem says there was a spike within the variety of compelled installations or prospects being switched through sensible metres in latest months.
“I am concerned about the sharp growth in households struggling to pay their bills being switched over to prepayment meters, sometimes without their even knowing about it, leaving them without heating,” Mr Brearley mentioned in a speech on the Institute for Government on Monday.
“I have heard directly from people who have faced poor practice from suppliers. It is simply not acceptable that vulnerable customers are left in the dark and cold in winter.”
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The withdrawal of Russian fuel from European provide, elevated competitors for different sources, and a discount in output from the French nuclear fleet have mixed to drive up wholesale fuel costs, which successfully set the bottom fee for electrical energy manufacturing.
While the market has settled since final summer time Mr Brearley mentioned there is no such thing as a prospect of a return to decrease costs that have been regular earlier than the coronavirus pandemic.
“Mild weather, improved storage in Europe, and a more benign trading environment… has led to a challenging but more robust energy security position,” he mentioned.
“But prices are unlikely to fall back to pre-pandemic levels… we need to be ready for a world where prices are high and volatile.”