EAS Policy Position Statement – Coronavirus Situation

Policy position statement – Coronavirus situation

Introduction

Energy Action Scotland is concerned about extra energy costs for people who are quarantined or who are self-isolating due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The Government’s response places limitations on time spent outdoors and so families will be spending significant amounts of time indoors and probably using more energy than they would normally. Energy Action Scotland has made available some hints on being energy wise during this time and how all members of a household can reduce energy wastage and get the best amenity from the energy they can afford. Follow the link to our dedicated webpage [1].

Energy Markets

People using pre-payment meters have a particular disadvantage in paying for their energy as under the movement restrictions, they would be unable to go out and top up, thereby risking self-disconnection and being unable to heat their homes or having any energy for basic amenities e.g. cooking, lighting, bathing, refrigeration, laundry needs and internet connectivity. Should they be forced to go out while unwell they risk infecting others. Households with a smart pre-pay meter will be able to top up via the phone, the internet and in some cases via an app on their mobile. Many people have no option to be able to top up remotely and rely on going out, possibly counting on public transport to travel to the nearest top-up point to re-charge their pre-payment card or token/key. In light of recent travel restrictions, this adds further to the burden.

The UK Government has reached an agreement with energy companies setting out principles to support customers impacted by COVID-19 [2]. This includes specific measures for those reliant on pre-payment meters. Energy Action Scotland welcomes the UK Government’s proposals to protect vulnerable people throughout COVID-19 to ensure that if they fall into debt while self-isolating, they will still remain supplied with energy. We welcome the assertion that energy suppliers will adopt these measures immediately, however suppliers of unregulated fuels (oil/kerosene, LPG and solid fuels) are not covered by these proposals and we would urge them and the Scottish Government to help the 196,000 homes in Scotland not reliant on mains gas or electricity for their primary heating needs [3]. All fuel suppliers need to adopt a consistent approach in ensuring that people have access to heating and the other basic amenities that energy provides.

Some suggestions of additional help that suppliers could consider, perhaps delivered in partnership with local trusted third sector organisations may be discretionary top-ups and fuel vouchers such as those which can and have been delivered via food banks. The Government has already agreed with suppliers that they implement flexibility with energy billing and energy debt, suspending credit meter disconnections so ensuring that no-one is cut off during the pandemic and pausing existing debt repayments. Much like mortgage companies are offering mortgage holidays, Energy Action Scotland would like to see payment holidays for people in energy debt.

Further to this, Energy Action Scotland would like to see ALL customers either moved on to the energy regulator’s “safeguard tariff” [4] where they don’t currently have a better energy deal, or ideally a one-year special COVID-19 rate for gas and electricity which has the option of switching to a zero rated standing charge over any period where occupants are moved into intensive care and are no longer occupying the family home. In short, over this pandemic period, no household should be left paying more than they need to for their energy regardless of personal circumstances.

Lifestyle Changes

In addition, throughout this pandemic crisis, many people have lost their jobs, lost their clients or are working increasingly from home, therefore using more energy and, in some cases, struggling to pay for it. There is an increased likelihood of customers getting into energy debt with unusual patterns of energy consumption and we would call on all energy suppliers to treat customers sensitively over the next 3-6 months and beyond as the country and the economy recovers.

In addition to the basic energy saving tips available on our website, the following have become more relevant under the COVID-19 emergency measures:

Where households have off-peak electricity, using appliances at on-peak times is going to be more expensive, the differential for this is going impact greatly on the bill where there are more people at home during the daytime. Energy Action Scotland research suggests that as much as £850-950 per year can be saved by switching supply to a company with a cheaper day rate tariff.

Consumers will need to discuss with their supplier about alternative payment methods where normally they pay bills in person at the bank/post office.

Think about good cooking behaviours/ sharing meal preparation as a household, rather than a collective of individuals. Cooking in bulk and also sharing oven time to optimise that energy use.

The need for regular accurate meter readings provided to suppliers over the lockdown period as this will NOT be normal consumption for the time of year there is a danger of consumers under paying for increased usage and facing a large deficit at the end of the year.

Automatic Priority Service Register registration (networks and supply) for quarantined households, even if it is just for 2 weeks.

Good ventilation habits: more people at home for longer periods (24 hours) = increased moisture loading of the home. Requires diligence in tackling excessive moisture at the point of generation.

Action plan required for boiler servicing, repairs and for tenanted properties, the need for safety checks for CO and smoke/heat detection units.

 

  1. https://www.eas.org.uk/en/coronavirus_56247/
  2. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/873960/Supplier_Agreement_19.3.2020.pdf
  3. Table 5: Primary Heating Fuel, Households (000s) and %, for All Stock and by Sector, 2018, SHCS, Scottish Government
  4. https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/about-us/how-we-work/working-consumers/protecting-and-empowering-consumers-vulnerable-situations/consumer-vulnerability-strategy/vulnerable-customer-safeguard-tariff