Scrap all energy bills in the lockdown!

Submitted by martin on 30 March, 2020 - 3:25 Author: Luke Hardy
pre-pay meter

All energy bills for residential customers should be scrapped for the period of the lock down. This is a demand that should be made of the government now.

Heat, light and energy for homes should be a basic right not a privilege. Yet millions of the poorest and most vulnerable people do not have secure supply.

Energy supply companies are not allowed to cut off vulnerable customers, the elderly or those with children. But in many cases they don't have to. If a household has a top up pre-payment meter, and doesn't have the money, they self disconnect anyway by running out of credit.

Customers who get into debt with their bills are offered pre-payment meters as a way out. Private landlords also often insist on them to avoid been saddled with any responsibility for their tenants' inability to pay the energy bills.

In the coronavirus lock-down this system is putting even more people in danger. Families at home all the time spend more on energy. Going out to shops to top up undermines social distancing and government advice to self-isolate for the vulnerable.

In any case many newsagents or corner shops with PayPoint have shut for the duration of the crisis. Other shops, for understandable hygiene reasons have stopped accepting cash, so people need to have money in bank accounts in order to pay by card. If you can scrape together £10 in change, that is no good to you.

You will hear that scrapping bills will not help pre-payment customers, but this is obfuscation. Households with prepay smart meters can be instantaneously switched to credit mode by suppliers. Or suppliers can set the current period as "non-disablement", so no-one gets cut off.

Another aporoach would be to provide free automatic top-ups to all pre-pay customers to cover the period. The energy companies have the means to sort this out without forcing people into debt.

There are still millions with traditional top-up meters that cannot be switched remotely. Some can have their cards topped up remotely by suppliers. All others should be provided with top up cards or keys through the post, with enough credit to last them for the months of the shut down.

In or after the current crisis, energy suppliers (especially the smaller ones) will probably be asking for public funds to bail them out. Instead, the entire energy sector needs to be taken into public democratic ownership with workers control.

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