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Energy: Prices

Volume 487: debated on Wednesday 4 February 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change what assessment he has made of the adequacy of publicity highlighting reduced domestic energy tariffs under the Government’s agreements with the energy utilities. (243266)

[holding answer 16 December 2008]: Energy suppliers offer a range of help to their most vulnerable customers such as social tariffs, trust funds and rebates. In April, they agreed with the Government to increase their spend on social assistance and this year they will be spending collectively £100 million, rising to £125 million next year and £150 million by 2011.

In order to facilitate the role of advice organisations, switching sites and other intermediaries in making information available to their clients about social tariffs and other assistance, suppliers agreed in the Fuel Poverty Summit organised by Ofgem in April to provide greater visibility of their offers.

Subsequently Ofgem sought advice from key consumer organisations regarding what information suppliers should include on their websites. Following this process, all suppliers now have relevant information on their websites about their social tariffs and programmes and a contact phone number for consumers to check their eligibility.

Early indication from suppliers is that since this time last year the numbers of customer accounts on social tariffs have at least doubled and will exceed the 600,000 customer accounts originally suppliers estimated that would benefit this winter. This is a good indication of the level of awareness of the assistance suppliers offer, although the Department does not monitor the suppliers’ publicity activity directly.

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (1) if he will seek discussions with energy suppliers regarding the availability of social tariffs to cancer patients; (245815)

(2) what recent estimate he has made of the number of people with a cancer diagnosis who are living in fuel poverty.

The information as to how many people with a cancer diagnosis are living in fuel poverty is not available. People with a cancer diagnosis are classified as long-term sick and the detailed tables of the UK Fuel Poverty Strategy, Sixth Annual Progress Report 2008, available online at:

http://www.berr.gov.uk/files/file48038.pdf

show the number of households containing somebody who is disabled or long-term. These show that in England in 2006, there were around 915,000 fuel-poor households containing somebody who was disabled or long-term sick, however this number does not show how many of these households may contain someone who suffers from cancer.

In respect of social tariffs, suppliers do not record information regarding customers who may suffer from cancer. A number of them do, however, work with voluntary organisations, such as Macmillan Cancer Support, to identify those most vulnerable to fuel poverty.

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change what steps he has taken to encourage energy companies to lower the gas prices they charge to consumers. (251738)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, has met with major energy suppliers and has strongly encouraged them to lower prices to consumers as a matter of urgency. Wholesale gas prices peaked last summer and have now fallen, though not back to 2007 levels. It is important that consumers begin to see the benefits of those lower wholesale prices, and that people can have confidence that they are being treated fairly by suppliers.

Ofgem have been asked to publish quarterly reports on wholesale and retail prices. This will deliver greater transparency over future prices.