What Next for Disabled People Living In The Dark? The Need For An Energy Tariff by Dan White

Thu,1 February 2024
Blog Climate change Equality & Rights Money
Now the Government quietly drops the energy social tariff while Ofgem resurrect Pre-payment forced installation, what next for Disabled people living in the dark?

It was almost a year ago that the energy industry regulator Ofgem said there was an 'urgent' need to examine the introduction of an energy social tariff that would 'limit the impact of extremely high energy prices' on consumers. Indeed the Government also pledged to consider the same said thing in 2022, and this was doubled down on by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the then Energy Secretary Grant Shapps. 

The proposal to bring in an energy social tariff was widely championed by many charities and Disabled people’s organisations such as Disability Rights UK, with the idea being that the poorest in society, far too often Disabled people, would have their energy bills reduced. The Disability Poverty Campaign Group (DPCG) also asked Government to consider extra payments for Disabled people who require additional energy to heat their homes for health reasons, use more hot water for baths and laundry, and to power essential health and mobility equipment.    

It is also almost 12 months ago that Ofgem told energy firms to halt the forced installation  of Prepayment meters. Again, this was something that so many campaigning groups and broadsheet papers were clamouring for after the revelation that PPMs were being forced fitted into the homes of people experiencing extreme poverty and exclusion. 

It was hoped that a social energy tariff alongside tougher rules on when PPMs could be forced fitted would lead to greater protections for Disabled consumers and reduce distressing choices as to whether to eat or heat. 

Fast forward 12 months and it now appears the lion, Ofgem, has no teeth, and the Government no backbone or moral fibre. The proposal for the much-demanded energy social tariff has been quietly dumped and Ofgem has allowed energy firms to again begin forcing PPMs onto those struggling with energy debt, albeit with new “conditions” 

As a campaigner and father to a Disabled child, I should be used to watchdogs falling short of responsibility and governments kowtowing to the wants of big business, but both these climb-downs are a further kick in the teeth for a community failing to keep its head above water in this cost-of-living crisis, and we haven’t even discussed the lack of planning for the impact of power cuts on Disabled people. 

Energy is life, literally in the case of Disabled people and Disabled families, energy and heat are keeping people alive, in their homes and out of overcrowded and crumbling hospitals. The current policies supporting poor households and those with high energy bills such as the insulting cost-of-living payments are woefully inadequate for an era where energy bills have doubled. These payments are sticking a plaster over a widening wound of despair and the failure to discharge the duty of care to citizens who need extra support.  

An energy social tariff if implemented responsibly would see eligibility for it based on household income and household energy consumption It would be just, fair and in an era of soaring energy profits, absolutely and unequivocally possible to do. The benefits, apart from lifesaving, should also be tempting for a government obsessing over inflation. A tariff would help to reduce inflation by bringing down the cost of energy bills, plus allowing people to put money back into the economy. I’m no economist but logic plays a big role in my thinking. 

So why stop the plan? The government is understood to have cooled on the idea, indicating that social tariffs are "no longer a priority", that ministers were looking into other ways to help those struggling with energy costs and perhaps most unsurprisingly because of the potential costs. In other words, the possibility of improving Disabled people’s long term good health would be “too costly.” This is a term we are sadly used to when hopeful of a better and more inclusive standard of living. 

The duplicitous way of dropping the energy social tariff is shocking, and unless the system wakes up to the humanitarian crisis on its doorstep, we’ll see the same energy crisis repeated every winter with struggling Disabled households unable to pay their energy bills, Disabled people unable to top up their prepayment meter, and record numbers freezing and dying in their homes because they were deemed “to costly” to support. In a true equal and empathetic society, those who have less should pay less and this should include those utterly dependent on energy. 

If the social tariff was in place, it would send a clear pre-election signal that the system understands the crisis and the lives of the families and individuals, the ones whose very health is at risk because of government apathy and an apparent preference to shareholder gain.  

As for the resurrection of the PPM debate, although new Ofgem guidelines stipulate that Households with powered medical equipment, households with a dependency on a warm home and homes where there is no one within the household that can top up the meter due to physical or mental incapacity, are exempt, but the memories of bailiffs and court orders are still fresh for many. There are already around four million prepayment meters in the UK, and with the news from Citizens Advice that More than two million people with them could have their gas and electricity cut off this winter because they cannot afford to top up, a return to energy firms acting like gangsters is appalling. 

PPMs should be consigned to the bin of history. There is nothing else really to add to that. No one should be forced to have anything in their home, especially an archaic device from an energy supplier who claims to have a wide package of support available to its vulnerable customers but would rather break into their homes and force a PPM on them. Energy firms and the regulator have lost their moral compass on this. 

The whole system in and around energy needs a drastic and urgent re-think. Not tomorrow, not in the summer when the media will forget the stories of hardship, but now, now while the lived experience of Disabled people is at its worst.  

Ourselves here at DR UK have already talked with Ofgem to little avail, and now our frustrations have led us to write a follow up letter demanding action to our previously unanswered attempt to the new minister for energy and net zero. You can download the full letter down below. We write many letters to our representatives in ever-dwindling hope of a response. We sent an accompanying letter to the secretary of state regarding the government's plans for the statutory Minimum Income Guarantee at the same time…I’m assuming we get filed under “costly” or “must avoid” as an answer is a rare as Disabled person on Question time. 

Things cannot go on like this regarding energy, we wait to see if the minister can summon up the energy to finally respond to us, to the community, to the country and sort this crisis, FINALLY. 

Letter to Secretary of State on an Energy Tariff