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Energy Bills

Volume 557: debated on Thursday 31 January 2013

We have a range of initiatives to help people with their energy bills, including tariff reforms, energy saving programmes and additional help for those on the lowest incomes. From our proposals to help get consumers on to the cheapest tariffs to the green deal, and from the warm home discount to our promotion of collective switching, this Government are working hard to help people to keep their energy bills down.

As payday loan adverts appear all over the receipts for prepayment meters and their rates remain artificially high, what advice do the Government and the Secretary of State have for those who have to take out payday loans to pay their energy bills? Does he think it is a good or a bad thing?

The hon. Lady is a real campaigner on payday loans and I congratulate her on her work. She knows an awful lot about interest rates on unsecured credit, including payday loans, and how high they can be. I therefore hope she tells Labour Front Benchers about them. They have criticised the interest rate on the green deal, but that is one of the most competitive interest rates around for unsecured credit. The green deal is a good job, and will help everyone who is suffering from fuel poverty.

The big six manipulated the previous schemes that Labour put in place to help people with energy efficiency measures to get their bills down by sending out light bulbs. This Government have started a new scheme that will not be open to fraud, and that will include measures that will actually bring people’s bills down. Can the Secretary of State update the House on the progress of the new energy company obligation?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. While the carbon emissions reduction target had its successes, more than 300 million light bulbs were provided in the early years of the scheme and we estimate that approximately a third of them are still lying unused in cupboards. There was no doubt that we needed to reform the CERT. She is absolutely right to say that the ECO is a much better scheme. As the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) said, it is already under way and having a real effect in bringing help to people.

uSwitch proposed an industry-designed web service to facilitate groups switching between energy suppliers, helping consumers get a better deal on their bills. Will the Secretary of State consider supporting incentivising companies to sign up and provide portable billing data by offering a temporary tax break to help cover the costs?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question and I will certainly look into that idea, but can I just tell him how many things the Government are doing to support switching, not least our support for collective switching? One of the advantages of collective switching is that it can get even better deals for people than the normal switching we have seen in the past. It can also reach out to the most vulnerable and to the people on the lowest incomes. That is why the only criterion for our competition, Cheaper Energy Together, which this year will see 94 councils involved in collective switching schemes, was that the fuel poor should be involved.

I do not recognise where the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the right hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker), got his figures from when he answered the previous question, because under the previous Labour Government 1.75 million people were lifted out of fuel poverty. When next year’s figures come out, which will show what has happened since the general election, does the Secretary of State think that the number of people in fuel poverty will have increased or decreased?

I am grateful for the chance to answer a question on this issue, because the report that my predecessor commissioned from Professor John Hills is a serious report, and I urge all right hon. and hon. Members to read it. It talks about how we measure fuel poverty and shows that some of the statistics we have used in the past have been deeply unhelpful in tackling fuel poverty, not least because they failed to identify the people who were in grinding fuel poverty year in, year out. The proposals put forward by Professor John Hills will ensure that the really poor, who never escape fuel poverty, are identified and that we can give them much greater help. That is the real debate we should be having, not this exchange of statistics that gets us nowhere.