MPs on the Commons Select Committee have warned that vulnerable households face an inevitable new winter crisi ” without more help on energy bills.
A report from the Energy Security and Net Zero Committee follows a quick inquiry on how the Government and energy firms can best prepare for the coming months. MPs heard of the dangerous coping measures and sacrifices some people had to make to heat their homes last year and how excess winter deaths caused by living in cold, damp homes increased by nearly 50% to more than 4,700.
While recognising the unprecedented levels of support provided last year, the Committee is concerned that no new specific financial assistance has yet been announced and warns that the challenge of coping with continuing high energy costs this winter will be exacerbated by wider cost of living pressures and accumulated energy debt.
The report has called for a package of targeted support, by the Government, for vulnerable groups and for a more proactive and more empathetic approach to customer service by energy companies.
With £440 million intended for energy bills support last year returned to the Treasury, the Committee says the Government must ensure that all households who missed out on the Energy Bills Support Scheme receive their payment with immediate effect.
To further support the most vulnerable, the Committee sets out how existing mechanisms could be used to deliver help and urges the Government to work to extend the Warm Home Discount and, along with energy suppliers, to consider implementing a form of social tariff.
The report also calls for a revised Cold Weather Payment to be provided ahead of forecast cold events and for the Government to ensure local authorities share best practice in how to deliver the Household Support Fund.
Consumer organisations told the Committee that those in the greatest need of financial support are often also in need of more help in identifying where they might qualify. With customer satisfaction rates disappointingly low, the report recommends that Ofgem takes steps to ensure that all customers, and particularly the most vulnerable, are given more time, attention and support from their energy suppliers.
Ofgem and energy companies also need to adopt a more proactive culture in improving industry consumer standards, and suppliers should be required to provide a priority phoneline for charities and consumer organisations to access support for their clients, the report adds.
Further recommendations include working to replace the current “unfair and regressive standing charge” structure and the acceleration of the smart meter rollout.
Angus Brendan MacNeil MP, Chair of the ESNZ Committee, said: “The nights are now drawing in and many of our most vulnerable people will be haunted by harrowing memories of the relentless sacrifices they were forced into last year, just to keep their heads above water in the face of exorbitant energy costs. In fact one in four carry energy debts from last winter. With the challenge this winter threatening to be even worse, an announcement of support from the Government is long overdue. The mechanisms to provide assistance are already in place – the Government and energy firms must now get on and act to reassure struggling households that they are not being left to fend for themselves.”
“While financial support will be vital, there also needs to be a drastic improvement in customer service and the empathy shown by energy companies to those who are going through tough times. If these firms don’t improve, Ofgem must be less backwards in coming forward and give them a good shake to ensure they are working in the best interests of their customers this winter”
“The report noted the ‘unfair and regressive standing charges’ should go. After all you don’t pay a standing charge to buy petrol, you just pay for what you use. We also saw the wisdom in the need for a social tariff for those hardest hit and anyone with a modicum of empathy can see why.”