Written evidence submitted by Organise (WIN0055)

 

Organise is a worker-led platform where over a million members of the public come together to make change. The views of Organise members make up this submission.

 

Last winter, millions of people, workers and families struggled to, or simply couldn't, pay their bills. Many of us were forced to go without heating, with some resorting to using public transport and public spaces, such as libraries, as a refuge in which to stay warm. [1]

 

The committee's inquiry into lessons to learn from last winter is therefore welcome. However, it will be impossible to paint a full picture of what happened -and what needs to change - without considering the views of people who bear the brunt of rocketing energy costs.

 

So, following your call for evidence over 33,000 members of Organise have responded to our survey. This report is a summary of their views. You will find messages from the public in regard to most lines of inquiry:

 

-          What more could have been done to prevent price shocks being passed to consumer bills?

-          How should energy companies respond if customers cannot pay their bills?

-          Has Ofgem got its priorities right in addressing customer protection?

 

Our hope is that this response is a window into what it has been like for workers and pensioners during the winter, and what we collectively expect to change in order to avoid the crisis reaching such critical points again.

 

"Do you think the government has done enough to protect us from profiteering energy companies?"

 

Last winter saw millions of workers see their energy bills rise, as energy companies' profits spiralled to record heights. 96% of respondents do not think the government did enough to protect customers from the impacts of this. 2% of respondents think the government did do enough, while 2% were not sure.

 

96% of the public do not think the government did enough to protect them from energy companies making huge profits.

 

Energy became so expensive that we (my wife and I) as pensioners, were forced to shut the heating down and stay in one room with a tiny gas fire for warmth. After more than fifty years contributing to the country I expected more support.

 

Anonymous member

 

I live in a one-bed sheltered accommodation. I have economy 7 heating, of which I did not use this summer. I managed to get a small gas fire. But my bills were still over 180 per month. I don’t have an oven/cooker. I have an air fryer and slow cooker and have lived at time on cheese and biscuits or sandwiches.

 

Anonymous member

 

What more could have been done to prevent price shocks being passed to consumer bills?

 

 

In response to the committee's question of what could have been done to prevent price shocks being passed to customers, in descending order:

 

-          21,226 people said capping prices more effectively

-          16,943 people said investment in affordable renewable energy

-          13,856 people said more financial support

-          13,580 peopl‍e said expanding energy efficiency programme

 

What more could have been done to prevent price shocks being passed to consumer bills?

 

Here's what some respondents said:

 

"The government should have introduced a far more stringent tax on the massive profits of the gas, electric and oil companies. This money could have been used to support consumers and to support the NHS."

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"Nationalise the energy companies and take the profit element out."

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"Increasing the efficiency of household appliances for instance, and more insulation - it's crazy that half our bills are on energy that probably goes out of the window."

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"Vast profit made by British Gas went to shareholders; some of this could have been used to bring costs down."

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"Desperate need for massive insulation and energy efficient programmes."

 

How should energy companies respond if customers cannot pay their bills?

 

 

In response to the committee's question on how energy companies should respond if customers cannot pay their bills:

 

-          19,580 people said companies should offer affordable re-payment plans

-          18,574 people said companies should scrap penalty fees for late payments

 

I’m disabled and have found myself unable to afford the £400 per month British Gas was happily taking from my bank by direct debit. They guesstimate and wildly overinflate their already ridiculous prices. Currently I have to pay £225 per month and this is beyond my means. My rent’s gone up £155 in the past year and housing benefit has not. I already topped up my housing and now I have no PIP money left for my actual disability. I’m in debt up to my eyeballs and it’s getting worse by the day.

 

Anonymous member

 

We had to take equity out our home to pay for increases in energy bills and all the other cost of living bills because everything has massively increased in price.

 

Anonymous member

 

And what should energy companies not be allowed to do, if we can't pay our bills?

 

 

The public also responded to what energy companies should not be allowed to do should customers fail to pay bills.

 

-          22,246 people said they should not be allowed to shut off our supply

-          20,142 people said they should not be allowed to force customers onto prepayment meters

-          19,721 people said they should not be allowed to fine us for late payments

 

"For those on low incomes that cannot afford their bills there should be a special much lower rate. This should be for the disabled and pensioners on state pensions or very low pensions and others that are in poverty and cannot pay."

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"Reduce or remove standing charges."

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"Financial hardship schemes out of their vast profits."

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"Reduce payments for people who are sick, elderly, disabled, or have young children."

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"Drop payments for meters; it's very rare you need an engineer to service your meter and people on payment meters shouldn't need to pay extra just because they're on said meter."

 

Does Ofgem effectively protect consumers?

 

 

82% of respondents do not think that Ofgem has effectively protected consumers. 1% think they have and 17% are not sure.

 

Here's what some respondents said:

 

"I am recovering from cancer and have mental health issues due to this and the electricity company I'm with is threatening to put me onto a prepayment meter even though I have told them I am struggling."

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"Ofgem should stop allowing the money grabbing profiteers of energy companies, making billions at the expense of the public."

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"My Disabled neighbour is owed hundreds of pounds by EDF, who consistently overcharged them because they weren't well enough to challenge them."

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"It is absolutely obscene that power companies are making massive profits when millions of people are having to struggle to make ends meet."

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"One of my bills last winter was £650 a month, from £150 being a massive bill previously. It’s scary."

 

Thank you for taking the time to read this evidence from members of the public.

 

To see these survey results in full and read more personal testimonies, please visit:

 

[1] Organise: survey results

https://the.organise.network/surveys/preparing-for-winter-1-click/results/public

 

https://the.organise.network/surveys/preparing-for-winter-follow-up-survey/results/public

 

https://the.organise.network/surveys/preparing-for-winter-full-survey/results/public

 

August 2023