OFGEM’S announcement of savings of up to £19 on annual fuel bills for prepayment customers yesterday was dismissed by campaigners as “cold comfort” for the elderly and vulnerable.
The energy regulator will lower the price cap on October 1, cutting the average annual dual-fuel bill from £1,067 to £1,048.
Pressure has been mounting on the watchdog since British Gas pulled itself into line with the rest of the “big six” energy firms last week, announcing a 12.5 per cent rise in electricity bills affecting more then three million customers. It prompted shadow chancellor John McDonnell to accuse the energy firms of running a price-fixing cartel.
Households that prepay for their energy are mostly those with old-fashioned coin or token-operated meters, typically in rented accommodation. They are among those least able to benefit from competition and are more likely to be in vulnerable circumstances, Ofgem said.
But the regulator’s move has been called a “drop in the ocean” by elderly campaign group the National Pensioners Convention.
National officer Neil Duncan-Jordan told the Star: “This is cold comfort for the tens of thousands of elderly and vulnerable people who freeze to death every year.
“If bills keep rising, which they are doing, then this small saving will simply get swallowed up and we will see the elderly death toll rise each winter.
“It’ll be too little too late for some as poor housing and low incomes are just some of the factors that lead towards winter fuel deaths.”
He pointed out how the winter fuel allowance hasn’t kept pace with the rising costs of energy.
“Tory cuts have meant that while winter fuel allowance used to cover half of an elderly person’s annual fuel bill, it now only covers an eighth,” he said.
“The energy market doesn’t work for consumers. Everybody feels like they’re being ripped off. The regulator’s actions don’t go far enough. The energy market has got to be reformed and part of that reform is to start to introduce public ownership of the industry.”