Last week I mentioned that my energy supplier, applied a Balance Forecast algorithm, fixing the direct debit much higher than my monthly energy use. This was corrected by a member of staff which reinforces the argument for real people to be retained for customer services. Another concern is the hike in standing charges. These have tripled for domestic customers and know no restraint for business customers so I’m glad that Ofgem, is conducting an internal investigation into standing charges. I’ve asked questions in Parliament about the hike in standing charges. Ministers have said that this is a matter for Ofgem. When I raised high standing charges with the Chief Executive of Ofgem, his argument was that if they were capped, there would be an increase in unit prices to cover the costs of distribution (including the Supplier of Last Resort levy, protecting consumers when energy companies go bust). Ofgem’s research suggested that the consumers who would lose out from capped standing charges are those who cannot cut down their energy consumption - people with medical conditions that need heating, for example. I still believe it’s fairer if these costs were covered in unit prices. People with medical conditions should have tailored support - like the grants the NHS gives to those with medical equipment at home. Spreading costs across unit prices would also provide an incentive for using less energy which means that lower standing charges would help reduce carbon emissions. Please take this opportunity and write to Ofgem and let them know your views. If people take the time to participate in public consultations like this, it can make a huge difference to the debate - as we saw when the train companies withdrew their plan to close all ticket offices. You can write to Ofgem at StandingCharges@Ofgem.gov.uk, and the deadline is 19 January 2024. If you do not have email, please write to me and I shall forward your message on. There are more details about their Call for Input at https://tinyurl.com/ofgeminput
I mentioned the need to retain real people in public-facing services and I secured a debate in Parliament on Wednesday to address this very point. Isolation is something that is regularly raised in Parliament, but we fail to fully grasp what contributes to feeling this way. A contributing factor is what we would have done face-to-face has now gone online. If the only access to communication is online then people who find this difficult or out of reach have lost human interaction, their access to services and their access to choice. There are two actions I demanded in the debate: that we accept that it is unreasonable to expect everyone to access services online and we must adequately accommodate these customers and service users, and high-quality tuition and help must be made available for those who want to and are able to access their services online. Otherwise, we make people feel vulnerable and this is not something we should tolerate in a modern civil society.