Angus MP Mike Weir, the SNP Westminster spokesperson on Energy, has called for further action to tackle the problems of the most vulnerable consumers.
Speaking in a House of Commons debate, Mr Weir called for a simple system of moving people over to the cheapest tariff unless they make a conscious decision to stay on their present tariff, rather than the energy company simply contacting them with an offer to move.
“At present we already receive a huge amount of paper from our energy providers – as well as the bills we get special offers, offers to take on maintenance of domestic appliances, drains, pipes and electrics. Invitations to take up different ways to pay your bills, especially if they have not already signed you up to a direct debit.”
Mr Weir went on to say that direct debit demands sometimes bear no relation to the amount of energy you are actually using.
His speech to the House continued: “How many of our constituents really take the time to go through this mountain of information, and how many just put them in the recycling bin with all the other junk mail?
“The changes should be straightforward - if the consumer is on a contract or supply terms that are not the best then they can be automatically transferred to the better deal, unless they make the specific decision not to do so.”
Mr Weir also cited the detail of the report from Citizens Advice Scotland on Energy problems brought to the bureaux on problems associated with pre-payment meters.
“The problem with pre-payment meters is not only that the tariff tends to be higher – to be fair many companies now fix it at their standard tariff - but that is higher than the tariffs that can be achieved by, for example, direct debit – but also that many, although not all, of those on pre-payment meters are put on them because they have a debt and part of that debt is recouped every time that the consumer tops up the meter. The costs of installation can also be added to this debt, meaning that consumers are pushed further into debt “
“Because these meters tend to be used when a consumer is already struggling this has the perverse effect that if someone is already struggling to keep up with payments on the cheapest tariff, perhaps an online one and paying by direct debit – should they fall into difficulties, perhaps due to losing their job, illness or whatever number of reasons they end up being put on an even more expensive tariff which simply deepens the difficulties that they are in.”
“The report from CAB Scotland cites the case of a single parent with two children. She currently has to lose £7 towards arrears every time she puts £10 in the meter. The £3 remaining is entirely insufficient to heat her home. “
“What chance has she ever of either getting out of the cycle of debt, or of keeping her home warm?
“The CAB make a recommendation that pre-payment meters should be fixed at the cheapest tariff the supplier offers.”