Livewire - December 21, 2011

Photo by JOHN HUGHES'Derek Barton, member of the National Pensions Convention
Photo by JOHN HUGHES'Derek Barton, member of the National Pensions Convention
Have your say

By Derek Barton, regional secretary of the North West Pensioners Association

As the largest pensioner organisation in the region we condemn the energy giants.

When is Ofgen going to get to grips with the Big 6 Energy suppliers, a cosy Cartel of UK energy businesses that actively advocate the switching of energy suppliers, by consumers – on the understanding deregulation will save them vast amounts of money?

Thanks to the reduction of the Winter Fuel Allowance by 20 per cent and the Increase of Utility Prices by 30 per cent two out of three pensioners in the region now live in fuel poverty.

Companies offer savings of between 260 and 390 pounds per annum for switching suppliers, but when push comes to shove, the savings are just not there.

This form of advertising must be stopped as it constitutes mis-selling of energy contracts, by implying that the exercise will be saving money.

Rarely, if any, does it save money for the consumer .

By fining energy companies for poor customer service is not sufficient, as this does not repatriate money lost by consumers who switch, under the impression that by doing so they will be saving money – which is not true.

The Advertising Standards Agency should act accordingly to protect the consumer.

Energy companies are very fast at increasing prices by 30 per cent but are not as fast at lowering them when wholesale energy prices come down.

Why is this, when the Big 6 make annual profits in excess of four billion pounds a year from the unfortunate consumer?

We also believe the Government’s new Warm Home Discount (WHD) scheme needs urgent reform to prevent hundreds of thousands of older people missing out on much needed support with their energy bills.

Under the WHD scheme, participating energy suppliers give a rebate of £120 on their electricity bill to a specified group of their older customers on low incomes, known as the Core Group.

For the first year of the scheme, 2011/12, eligibility is linked just to those on the Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit but this criteria is to be widened.

Participating energy suppliers also have discretion to extend support to those low income and v ulnerable households who are not part of the Core Group, known as the Broader Group.

But the NPC is concerned that the government and the big six energy companies are not doing enough to publicize or explain the scheme to those who might benefit.