When I was working at Community Legal Advice (I’m gonna keep linking to that, ‘cos it’s a useful place to get help if you’re having issues with your bank/landlord/boss) and people called about problems with debt, I would ask them about all their expenses to check for any debts they hadn’t mentioned. If debt collectors are banging on the door because you’re behind on your catalogue payments, it can be easy to forget you haven’t paid the gas bill either, even though the latter can obviously have worse consequences.
When I asked callers whether they were up to date on their energy bills, many – usually those worst off – would say something like ‘it’s OK, I have those on a meter now’.
If you only pay for your electricity when you have money, you don’t run up bills you can’t afford – which sounds great, until your supply conks out in the middle of the ironing and you have to go and find someone to borrow a tenner from. What’s worse, research has shown that those on pre-payment meters pay up to £215 a year more for their gas and electricity than everyone else.
Now, however – I am informed by the websites of both Linda McAvan MEP and Arlene McCarthy MEP (who is also Labour’s Consumer Protection Champion) – a new EU law, spearheaded by Labour MEPs, will make energy more cost-effective (and a bit more green) for everyone by:
– banning all discriminatory pricing in the energy market, including unfair pre-payment meter charges
– ensuring every household in the EU must be fitted with a ‘Smart Meter’ by 2022: these will enable customers to better control their energy usage and increase energy efficiency as well as cutting costs
– enshrining customers’ right to change suppliers within three weeks
– and compelling every EU country to put together an action plan to tackle energy poverty.
Excellent news that will make a big difference to a lot of people. Every day I get another little reminder of why I should pay more attention to Europe than I do.