asked the Secretary of State for Energy what was the total amount of arrears on domestic fuel bills and the number of consumers involved for electricity and gas, respectively, for the most recent available period; and what were the respective figures for each of the preceding five years.
I assume my hon. Friend is referring to domestic fuel consumers who have received final demands for payment of bills outstanding from the previous quarter. I understand from the Electricity Council and the British Gas Corporation that their current estimates of these arrears are:
- Electricity: some 4½ million consumers owe a total of about £65 million.
- Gas: some 2½ million consumers owe a total of about £60 million.
asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will give a general direction to electricity boards that no disconnections of consumer supply should take place without prior consultation with relevant social service departments in those cases where consumers are on supplementary benefits.
I do not believe a general direction would be the best way of deal- ing with this problem. There are already arrangements for liaison between electricity boards and the relevant social services to help consumers on supplementary benefit who are unable to pay their electricity bills. The breakdown in procedure in the case which the hon. Member referred to me was due to an unfortunate mistake.
asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will give a general direction to electricity boards to liaise with offices of the Department of Health and Social Security to create a list of consumers in receipt of supplementary benefits.
I do not think this is the right way to proceed. There is already close liaison between the electricity boards and the Department of Health and Social Security in respect of consumers who are receiving supplementary benefit who find difficulty in paying their electricity accounts. I think the hon. Member would agree that it would not be appropriate for DHSS to make available the personal details of all those in receipt of supplementary benefit.