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Volume 929: debated on Monday 28 March 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he is satisfied with arrangements to safeguard pensioners and others from disconnections.

Safeguards are contained in the Code of Practice on Payment of Domestic Electricity and Gas Bills adopted and published by the gas and electricity industries after consultation with the Government last December. I am hopeful that they will prove effective in helping genuine cases of hardship to avoid disconnection.

I thank my hon. Friend for what he has said and applaud the endeavours of his Department, but will he, nevertheless, attempt to increase information to the deserving cases who can be helped in the light of what he has said? I feel that this is of paramount importance. Will my hon. Friend give the matter his earliest attention so that the information can be disseminated as widely as possible?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The code sets out to draw attention to the easy payment and other methods by which people can be helped to overcome the difficulty of large quarterly bills. It is clearly advantageous to the fuel industry to know in advance whether people are likely to want help. People should not, therefore, wait until the last moment with a bill that is difficult to pay but should seek help and advice as quickly as possible. The Department will do all it can to ensure that the information is passed on to them.

Does my hon. Friend agree that while a code of practice is helpful it is sometimes difficult to apply? For instance, it is difficult to secure supplies of slot meters, although the code recommends that these should be made available in certain circumstances.

The code says that prepayment meters will be made available, where safe and practicable. If my hon. Friend has a particular case in mind, I ask him to refer it to me and I shall look at it. Decisions on the installation of prepayment meters must be for the industries themselves, since only they are in a position to assess whether they can be installed safely and practicably.

Can the Minister do a little more to help people in difficulties with insulation, particularly those in electrically-heated homes who are forced to pay bills which they cannot afford?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government have set aside £25 million to help those who are in receipt of supplementary benefit and family income supplement with their electricity bills this winter. On the question of insulation, the Government have made it clear that local authorities in particular are encouraged to go ahead with the insulation of houses. We know that there is a large area in which progress can be made, and funds have been made available through the job creation programme to do that. We want to see local authorities getting on with the insulation of housing.