Pigeon Column :: March 2023

The cost-of-living crisis has been the worst this country has experienced in generations. The squeeze on people’s pay, the slump in the economy and the increases in the mortgage costs are really hurting.

Some have already been choosing between heating and eating. But what has often been underreported is the number of households “voluntarily” disconnecting themselves from the energy grid because they simply cannot afford their prepayment meters. Research by Citizens Advice has found that 3.2 million people across Great Britain ran out of credit on their prepayment meter last year because they couldn’t afford to top up.

Whilst protections are supposed to be in place to stop vulnerable customers being moved onto prepayments meters, there are serious concerns that not enough is being done by energy companies to identify customers in these circumstances before installing a prepayment meter, and that this is leading to a rise in voluntary self-disconnections.

Now, some of you may have seen in the news that Magistrates have now been instructed to not issue any more mandatory installations of prepayment meters. This follows the scandal of British Gas effectively barging into properties to install them with a court order.

But the problem is more complex than those not being able to get access to heating. I have been supporting constituents who have found that after switching prepayment meter suppliers the money they had on the meter has vanished. There are also reports of individuals receiving customer service which we can generously call poor, but in reality call non-existent.

The past few years have shown how badly our utility companies have been regulated by the Tory Government. From raw sewage being pumped into our rivers and seas by water companies to energy firms imposing costly prepayment meters the system is broken.

There will be some that say: “well these people should spend more wisely on prepayment meters.” But that fails to take into account that prepayment meters are more expensive to run. They effectively put a surcharge on those who cannot set up a direct debit.

Labour has already called for an end to the injustice that people on prepayment meters have to pay more for their energy than those on direct debits. The party has called for additional government support to individual households on prepayment meters, to level the playing field on the cost of electricity and gas for households.

I want to remind constituents of Bristol South that if they are facing difficulty with their energy supplier you must first approach the supplier to see if there is any arrangement you can come to. In failing that, call Citizens Advice on 0808 223 1133. Do remember that my office also supports constituents with queries and issues they are facing.