Calls for discounted energy bills and lower standing charges for poorest

A standing charge is paid on all energy bills, regardless of energy usage. Credit: PA

Energy bills should be discounted for the poorest and most vulnerable, with better off consumers shouldering the excess, one MP has suggested.

Alba MP Kenny MacAskill called for lower standing charges for pre-payment meters (PPMs) customers, and put forward a social tariff on energy bills that would give discounted energy prices for those on lower incomes.

A standing charge is paid on all energy bills, regardless of how much a PPM customer uses.

A PPM customer would, therefore, still have to pay out even if they had their heating off all winter.

The charge, which helps fund the maintenance of the energy network has risen steeply over the last year, reportedly driven by administration costs of transferring customers over from energy suppliers who have left the market.

East Lothian MP Mr MacAskill said that a social tariff is “a concept whose time has come”, adding it was “one where those poorest and most vulnerable can access energy, and at affordable rates”.

Speaking in favour of his Energy Costs (Pre-payment meters and social tariffs) Bill, Mr MacAskill said: “Energy costs are the social and economic issue of our times, yet the steps taken to mitigate the pain of rises is far from adequate.”

Mp Kenny MacAskill wants to see more support for people on lower incomes amid rising energy costs. Credit: PA

Mr MacAskill added: “Fuel poverty is soaring and winter is nearing. That Scotland, which is energy rich, should find over half its people fuel poor is absurd and the pain is likewise felt south of the border, even if the climate is less severe and the natural bounty less kind.

“Additional action is therefore required across the country and urgently, especially for those most desperate and most vulnerable.”

Mr MacAskill claimed that increased standing charges on bills compounded the “injustice” of people choosing to “self-disconnect” from their energy supply because they could not afford to switch the heating on.

He added: “Even when users have been sparing in their consumption, many will find that their power card or savings are immediately consumed by paying debt before they even get a modicum of power.

“As I said, fuel and energy costs are about more than just heating or eating, they are about dignity, they are about opportunity, they are about life itself.

“This has not come about through some climatic disaster as has tragically afflicted Pakistan, nor can it be blamed solely on (Vladimir) Putin and the war in Ukraine.

“These are policy issues overseen by the UK government, where injustice and iniquity has been allowed to take root.

“Much of that can be addressed by the ending of higher standing charges for pre-payment meters and through the implementation of a social tariff for those with least, and the most vulnerable.”

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know

The Alba MP claimed this would “of course require a very modest tariff increase for those paying in credit”, adding: “But the numbers involved and the amount of energy consumed through PPMs make it a very small burden on those of us more fortunate.”

Mr MacAskill’s Bill will be given a second reading on March 24, 2023, but will not progress through the Commons without government support.

UK household bills could climb as high as £4,347 a year by next April after the new chancellor Jeremy Hunt said he and the prime minister had “reluctantly” agreed it would not be responsible to keep the energy price guarantee beyond April 2023.

Cornwall Insight estimates that electricity costs could rise to £2,060 and and gas could cost £2,286.70 next April.