By Charlie Kimber
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Energy fat cats push the poorest onto prepayment meters

This article is over 1 years, 4 months old
Data from energy regulator Ofgem shows over two million households are behind on their electricity bills and over one million are behind on gas bills
Issue 2829
Protestors against the energy price hike in August holding hand made placards that read people not profit and eating or heating no one should have to choose

On a Don’t Pay UK protest outside the Ofgem headquarters in London in August (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Energy suppliers are pushing 10,000 poorer people a month to switch to expensive prepayment electricity and gas meters. They’re doing it as people fall behind with their bills.

Once on prepayment meters, people can’t use energy unless they have paid for it. Profit-hungry corporations don’t have to worry about collecting arrears, and desperate people “self-ration” and then “self-disconnect” when they can’t afford to pay. That gets rid of the expense, the legal complications and the bad publicity of cutting off supplies.

It’s far easier to let a pensioner make their “own decision” to stop using heat and light, than to be seen to deny them these basic human needs.

The companies are also protected against payment strikes where people stop paying and, for a period before they are cut off, can still access energy.

Price comparison website Uswitch predicted that if the present trend continued there would be 10,000 installations a month by the end of the year. It obtained the figures via a freedom of information request.

That would take the total number of fitted meters to 7.5 million, up from 7.35 million in the last quarter of 2021.

The vast majority of those switching to prepayment do so because the companies demand it. Peter Smith, director of policy at the charity National Energy Action, called the figures “really worrying”. And he criticised suppliers for often defaulting “too quickly” to installing prepayment meters “despite this often not being wanted by the customer”.

The social emergency of gas and electricity costs is set to worsen quickly. The Tories’ decision to stop the present rebates on bills in April will be disastrous for many. Around 11 million households in Britain will fall into fuel poverty as average energy bills hit £4,300 a year.

As the Don’t Pay campaign said, “Chancellors may change but this government’s intention remains class warfare. We need to fight back.”

The number of households in arrears on their energy bills soared to record levels in the second quarter of this year, with more than two million behind on their electricity payments.

Data from energy regulator Ofgem shows that at the end of June, 2,347,511 households were behind on their electricity bills and 1,858,585 on their gas bills. Both totals rose by about a quarter in just three months, and by almost two-thirds since the end of 2020.

Morgan Wild, head of policy at Citizens Advice, said: “Our advisers have seen people resorting to unplugging fridges and freezers, washing clothes by hand and skipping meals to cut back on their energy costs because they simply can’t afford to keep the lights on.”

Last month Citizens Advice saw a record number of people who could not afford to top up their prepayment meter—the eighth time this record has been broken in the last nine months.

Separate data from the ONS released showed that black people are particularly hard hit. Nearly 70 percent of black British adults and 59 percent of Asian and Asian British people reported difficulties in meeting energy bills. Among white adults, the figure is 44 percent, still a very high figure. Vast sections of working class people feel on the edge of an economic abyss.

Meanwhile, supermarket bosses have massively increased the prices of basic foods such as pasta and tea in the last year—with cooking oil up 65 percent.

The overall price of budget food items in supermarkets soared by 17 percent in the year to the end of September, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). That’s far higher than the official rate of inflation at 10.1 percent and even outstrips the more accurate RPI rate of 12.6 percent.

Pasta prices have risen 60 percent, tea is up 46 percent and bread up 38 percent. There were also large price increases for other everyday low-cost items including milk and biscuits.

Much of the media is suggesting that, with Rishi Sunak as prime minister, we will see calm and competent rule. In fact he offers only class war on the poor and the working class.

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