Social Action Plan Discussion Document
Response from UNISON Scotland Joint Utilities Committee
1. UNISON Scotland welcomes this discussion document and supports
the need to review the present action plans.
2. We do not believe that price competition alone is sufficient
to assist those with greatest need. Greater emphasis is needed
on assisting people to reduce fuel use as well as the environmental
benefits of such a policy.
3. We are not convinced that in the context of the benefit system
price reductions can be regarded as equivalent to income for disadvantaged
customers. We believe that price controls and other measures should
directly assist these customers. Competition alone is not sufficient.
4. A range of support measures are required which would include
low user tariffs. However, disadvantaged customers are not all
low users (e.g. low income families) and therefore we would support
controls on prepayment charges which went some way towards reducing
the significant additional costs compared with direct debit payment
customers. There is some evidence that under the current arrangements
low income customers are subsidising better off customers.
5. We support the availability of the widest range of payment
methods at no extra or differential cost to customers. This should
include facilities for direct cash payments and companies should
be expected to provide these facilities and to justify the closure
of such facilities.
6. We support the suggestion of closer working with credit unions.
UNISON branches are heavily involved in the establishment and
running of credit unions which have been a major support particularly
to low paid workers and their families.
Staff secondment particularly for new or expanding credit unions
would be of considerable assistance. The most effective approach
to debt prevention is to take measures to avoid the build up of
These should include a requirement for more frequent meter reading
and greater promotion of the facility for customers to send in
replacement readings. Companies could do more to support debt
There is a need for a detailed review of Fuel Direct and the
possibility of new budgeting arrangements through the social security
system which should attract similar discounts to direct debit.
Customers who have repaid debt should have the option of remaining
on the Fuel Direct scheme until new arrangements are in place.
8. We would support a compulsory levy on all households to provide
funds for energy efficiency and the use of these funds should
be administered on a not-for-profit basis. These additional funds
should be combined with a more co-ordinated approach to the current
sources of funding for energy efficiency. Grant assistance should
be the preferred approach rather than loans. UNISON would also
support greater use of CHP schemes and other initiatives such
as Affordable Warmth' and Scottish Power/EAGA.
9. It is noticeable that new suppliers have fewer vulnerable
customers than the more established suppliers. There needs to
be stricter monitoring to ensure that all companies meet their
obligations in this regard.
10. We welcome the recognition in the document that the use of
prepayment meters can simply be a cover for self-disconnection
and rationing. There is an urgent need for greater research in
this area. Guaranteed Standards should apply to all suppliers.
There should be minimum standards on the provision of charging
points. UNISON would also support a minimum level of emergency
credit of £5 for Gas and £10 for electricity. Consideration
should be given to methods of spreading costs across the year
and limiting debt recovery to non-winter periods.
11. We believe that there is evidence that some new suppliers
are deliberately seeking to avoid supplying customers who use
cash-based payment schemes. The regulator needs to take action
in this area to ensure that disadvantaged customers benefit from
competition. Further action is also needed to monitor consumer
experience of doorstep selling.
12. On the supply of information there is a priority need to
ensure that all suppliers promote awareness of their social obligations
to customers. This should include improved liaison with social
work and housing staff who have contact with vulnerable groups.
13. UNISON Scotland would support the establishment of a review
group on the plan in Scotland.
Dave Watson Senior Regional Officer (Utilities)UNISON Scotland
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