Duty to consider the needs of customers in rural areas

Part of Domestic Gas and Electricity (Tariff Cap) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 15 March 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

When we have the consultation on the energy company obligation, which will be happening shortly, I am minded to review how much we direct towards customers in rural areas. As the hon. Gentleman knows, and as I know only too well from my constituency, fuel poverty is not an urban phenomenon. Many of our constituents live in old homes, which are not suitable for more modern forms of energy efficiency—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden is putting up his hand to say that his house is like that. These homes are a problem, particularly for those on low incomes; in my constituency the average income is well below the national average, and many of our homes are simply very old. That is why, what I would like to do with ECO, to be forthcoming, is to see how we can deliver more help to rural households and how we can focus that help more on innovation so that we can create more of a route to market for important new technologies that could help.

We have an open market in the supply of heating oil—it has been looked at, and the conclusion was that it is competitive and working. LPG customers have the LPG orders introduced by the CMA, which set a maximum contract length. Under the fuel poor network extension scheme, Ofgem sets a target for gas distribution companies to connect an additional 91,000 low-income homes to the gas grid by 2021. So there is work afoot to reduce some of the disbenefits of living in some of the most beautiful parts of the world, such as the constituency of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun.

I have mentioned additional help, but I suppose the question is whether we should specify in the Bill that more should be done. My argument is that the new clause is not necessary, because the Bill already explicitly requires Ofgem to protect all existing and future standard variable and default customers, including consumers in rural areas. Furthermore, Ofgem’s role as the regulator under the existing gas and electricity Acts confirms that it has a duty to protect the interests of all existing and future customers. It should specifically have regard to the interests of individuals living in rural areas, among other things.

There are already protections at various levels of the law and in the Ofgem regulations for those customers for whom the hon. Gentleman so rightly speaks. I therefore do not believe that the new clause is necessary, but I remain apprised of the issue he raised, which many of us face: how we help people who live in rural areas, who do not have the same options as those who live in urban areas, whether in terms of heating, lighting or broadband. I hope that he is content with that explanation and is minded to withdraw his new clause.