asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether the gas and electricity industries have yet reported to him the results of their consideration of the review by the Policy Studies Institute of the industries' code of practice on the payment of bills; and if he will make a statement.
I have now received the industries' joint response. I am pleased to report that they have undertaken to introduce forthwith the following changes to the code of practice:
Arrangements for repayment of debt—the industries will now take the initiative and offer a repayment arrangement before disconnection. Determined efforts will be made to contact consumers and increase take up of repayment arrangements.
Large accumulated debts—arrangements for repayment over a reasonable period will be offered.
Prepayment meters—prepayment meters will be installed on request, where safe and practical. All requests will now be recorded; there will be no arbitrary refusals. The industries will investigate technical alternatives to traditional slot meters.
"Fuel direct" scheme—the industries have removed all limits on the size of debt accepted for this scheme (except for one Board which is about to do so).
Welfare authorities—improvements to the "fuel direct" scheme have been agreed with DHSS. Subject to Parliamentary approval these should be introduced very shortly. Arrangements have been made for improved liaison with the welfare authorities.
A new code of practice leaflet incorporating these changes will be published shortly. In framing them the industries consulted the gas and electricity consumer councils and the welfare authorities. The consumer councils have agreed to monitor implementation of the changes.The deputy chairman of the Electricity Council has also written to me about additional steps being taken by his industry to assist with problems applying particularly to electricity consumers. Area electricity boards will contact all consumers who have been disconnected for more than a month to explore the possibilities for reconnection. The industry has this month mounted a publicity campaign for its easy payment arrangements and all area boards have been asked to re-examine the format of their bills and literature to ensure they are readily understandable.I have arranged for copies of the industries' joint response and the letter from the deputy chairman of the Electricity Council to be placed in the Library of the House.I welcome these positive proposals. They should improve contact between the industries and those consumers the code of practice is designed to help. I shall maintain my close interest in the operation of the code, and I am pleased to note that the gas and electricity consumer councils are to monitor implementation of the changes.Disconnection of tenants for landlords' debts—disconnection will be delayed for 14 days and notice given to tenants and local authorities in England and Wales. The industries will pursue the landlord for payment including, where possible, disconnection of his own supply.