asked the Minister of Power if he will give a general direction to the electricity boards to offer the same credit facilities to consumers of electricity as are offered by private commercial companies to their customers.
No, Sir. My right hon. Friend considers that such matters are best left to the electricity boards.
Is it not rather an abuse of their monopoly position that the area electricity boards should threaten to cut off a customer's supply, and indeed do so? Is it not rather using their special position?
No, Sir. The boards are most reluctant to disconnect and do so only when there is no alternative. They are always willing to make reasonable arrangements with consumers who have special payment problems. However, when a board decides to disconnect there is usually a further delay of 7 to 14 days, so that the total delay between sending the bill and disconnecting for nonpayment is 42 to 49 days.
Is my hon. Friend aware that if an electricity board is minded to give longer-term credit the customer who gets the credit should pay for it in full rather than that the burden should fall on other customers or on the taxpayer?
I understand that the area boards consider that their credit facilities compare favourably with those generally allowed by private commercial concerns. Any extension of credit would require additional working capital in millions rather than thousands of pounds. For example, if consumers on average delayed payment by two weeks, the industry would need a permanent increase in its borrowing of no less than £25 million, on which it would have to pay interest.