It is very expensive to be poor. Almost everything costs more.
To the energy suppliers, it makes good business sense to have pre-payment meters. They get a guaranteed income for energy used. They do not cut people off, because they cut themselves off.
Citizens Advice has found more than two million people in the UK are being disconnected at least once a month. Approximately one in five prepayment meter customers cut off in the past year then spent at least 24 hours without gas or electricity.
It is clear that disconnection as a result of running out of credit regularly impacts the lives of those living with prepayment meters. We cannot allow a system to continue that sees vulnerable people’s lives put at risk because they are constantly faced with being cut off. These are disproportionately the elderly, the vulnerable and people with young children.
Older adults can lose body heat fast, much faster than when they were young. Changes in your body that come with aging can make it harder for you to be aware of getting cold. A big chill can turn into a dangerous problem before an older person even knows what is happening, leading to hypothermia.
Children living in cold homes are at increased risk of asthma, other respiratory infections, low confidence and low educational attainment.
If you are on a tariff which includes standing charges, you will always have to pay them regardless of whether you are actually using the energy or not.
No money for the prepayment meter means no energy. Having no energy means: no lights, no heating, no TV, no hot water for washing yourself or clothes, no washing machine, no hot food or drink, no cooker or microwave, no fridge or freezer.
It means a return to getting up and going to bed depending on the light outside.
Then there is the added cruelty of standing charges -a payment that has to be paid on days when you cannot afford to use any energy.
As of April 2023, customers in the UK will be paying an average standing charge of around 53p per day for electricity and 29p per day for gas.
For someone without gas that means that if they use no energy for three days, when they make a payment their pre-payment meter instantly takes that off, meaning the money available is reduced by over £1.50 before any charge for usage.
I have had a constituent tell me that it cost over £2.50 to heat a bowl of soup. I had to explain this was mainly made up of the standing charge and unfortunately was not an error with the meter.
In this example a £10 pre-payment sees over a quarter spent meeting standing charges on days that no energy is used. Also, when it runs out, you have to reset the boiler which with an older boiler can take a number of attempts.
I would like standing charges abolished and added to the tariff, if the energy companies will not abolish them and meet the cost from their profits. As a very first step we need to do everything we can to stop standing charges on days that no energy is used.
We moved from a public monopoly to a private oligopoly where profit is put first and where in 2022 people such as Chris O’Shea, the chief executive of Centrica which has taken over from British Gas was awarded a £1.4m bonus for his performance, in addition to his £790,000 salary and a £2.3m long-term share bonus.
Those at the top of the companies get paid millions of pounds but those who are struggling to pay their energy bills end up with no energy.
Too many people’s lives are being made more difficult than they need to be. We need action now. We need to take energy back into public ownership and ensure people are able to heat their home and have energy to meet their basic needs.
Mike Hedges is the member of the Welsh Senedd for Swansea East.