Electricity Disconnections

Oral Answers to Questions — Energy – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24 February 1992.

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Photo of Mr Patrick Ground Mr Patrick Ground , Feltham and Heston 12:00, 24 February 1992

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy when he last met the chairmen of the regional electricity companies to discuss levels of disconnection for debt.

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory , Wells

I am delighted that the number of disconnections for debt has continued to fall. In 1991, the figure for England and Wales was less than a third of what it was 10 years ago.

Photo of Mr Patrick Ground Mr Patrick Ground , Feltham and Heston

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Is it right to see in the big reduction in disconnections signs of a different attitude on the part of the electricity companies to their customers and signs of better management since the companies were privatised, and is there scope for further improvement in this respect?

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory , Wells

Yes, the sharpest reduction in disconnections for debt has occurred since the companies were put into the private sector. I believe that they are now closer to their customers and more able to cater for the needs of their customers, including those who fall behind with their payments. I look forward to further reductions in unnecessary disconnections and I know that that is also the desire of the independent electricity regulator.

Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes , North East Derbyshire

The reason why there are fewer disconnections is that the electricity companies have introduced card meters, so that people cut themselves off rather than having to be cut off by the electricity companies. Moreover, there is an absence of facilities for obtaining cards for the meters, so that many people who have to use them have to spend a considerable amount of money on travelling to get hold of cards. As the meters are now in operation, will the Minister take action to ensure that dispenser facilities are more widely available?

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory , Wells

The installation of pre-payment meters is one reason why the number of disconnections has fallen, but more important is the fact that the regional electricity companies, under the terms of their licence, have to approve a code of conduct with the Office of Electricity Regulation and must offer customers who are in genuine difficulties a payment plan so that debt can be paid off over a period. If customers agree a payment plan, they will not he disconnected. That is a very much better arrangement than that which pertained more than 10 years ago, when a state-controlled monopoly was only too ready to disconnect customers without agreeing such arrangements.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change

What are the prospects of disconnection for industrial customers in the coming year if they cannot afford to pay the exorbitant increases that the electricity companies are seeking from them? For instance, Fields Packaging of Bradford has been asked to pay 30 per cent. more, and Ibstock Brick in Leicestershire has been asked to pay between 20 and 30 per cent. more. How can the Minister or the companies justify increases of five to seven times the rate of inflation?

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory , Wells

We are anxious that all industrial customers should have access to competitively priced electricity and I am pleased to say that an independent survey showed that in the first year after privatisation three quarters of those customers experienced at least a 10 per cent. reduction in their bills. Any subsequent increases should be seen in that context. Moreover, it should be an embarrassment to the hon. Gentlemen to be reminded that under the last Labour Government prices for domestic customers rose by 22 per cent. in real terms. That was a scandalous neglect of the interests of those customers and it will not be repeated under this Government.