Energy bailouts for the poorest, big profits for the richest: this is Britain in 2023 Gabi Hinsliffe

EOlder ladies make picking easy. The new recruit was told that single parents are also a mainstay of the profession. Therefore harden your heart to plead with them, even if they have little children, for: “If every mother who sheds a little tear, you turn away from them, you will receive no reward.” Just get yourself in the house and install that prepaid meter, even if they can’t keep their credit up, it’ll cut off their gas and leave them shivering in the dark.

The advice above, given to a Times reporter working undercover for a company like British Gas to deal with customers falling behind on their bills, is tiresome, and yet not surprising. Three weeks ago, the paper reported a warning from Citizens Advice about vulnerable people – who are to be exempted by energy suppliers – being unfairly forced to use Meters are expensive.

Among the cases dealt with by the consultants were a single parent who resorted to warming milk for her baby at her GP surgery and a woman with lung disease who could not charge her ventilator at home. . Shutting down British Gas may say it’s looking to impose pre-paid meters only on customers who refuse to pay unpaid bills, but debt is scary and it gets away with it – pretending it’s in scary brown envelopes unopened. They are not when someone calls. , hoping it will all work out somehow – it’s a natural human reaction when you know that with the best will in the world, you can’t pay.

This problem has been repeatedly raised by charities, MPs and last year’s cross-party select committee on the energy market. Business and Energy Secretary Grant Shapps wrote to energy companies just a few days ago, warning them not to force meters to be installed. If British Gas didn’t know exactly what its contractor, Arvato Financial Solutions, was doing on its behalf, then it should know, and it deserves to say so publicly. But the wider, sad truth is that this is a bigger problem than any single service provider.

One out of five households have problems paying their water bills. As of April, those bills are expected to rise by an average of 7.5 percent, the largest increase in two decades. From the end of March, the government is set to start reducing its subsidy on fuel bills, exposing customers to more painful increases.

“Business and Energy Secretary Grant Shapps wrote to energy companies just a few days ago, warning them not to force meters to be installed.” Photo: Thomas Krych/ZUMA Press Wire/REX/Shutterstock

On Thursday, the Bank of England raised interest rates, which not only means more expensive mortgages, but also higher rents if landlords buy their pain. Petrol tariffs could also rise in the March budget, although Tory MPs are arguing hard for a deadline and food prices are still rising. In short, everything points to a terrifying cliff edge coming this spring, and an avalanche of debt, arrears, evictions and unpaid bills will follow.

Simply put, an awful lot of people don’t have enough money to absorb the shocks ahead. Wages are so low, benefits are so meager, and the cost of living is so high that they can’t even cover basic expenses, making providers of these basics reluctant canaries in the coal mine.

When gas prices rose after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it was the energy companies that lobbied loudly for the government to bail out ordinary households, correctly inferring that they would otherwise be inundated with unpaid bills. Now it’s not just charities sounding the poverty alarm, Iceland CEO Richard Walker, who aspires to become a Conservative MP, warned last summer that his stores were turning away customers for food banks or simply “because They lose hunger.

We are approaching a surreal point where it would be in the interests of big British business to start beating the drum for a more redistributive tax and welfare system, before they run out of people to sell goods to. In case you’re wondering, Iceland lost money last year. But British Gas expects revenue to rise eightfold this year. Meanwhile, amid a fuel crisis that is pushing families to the brink, there is something unsavory as oil and gas producer Shell reported record profits – one of the biggest in British corporate history – this week.

Since the bulk of these staggering profits were earned (and taxed) offshore, raiding Shell’s coffers would not be as simple as it sounds. But the tax windfall Rishi Sunak was ultimately embarrassed to slap on oil and gas companies last year can almost certainly work a lot harder than it is, based on both the amount Shell is paying out to its no doubt grateful shareholders and the amount He invested relatively little in it. Renewable energy sources that ultimately both save the planet and reduce costs.

British Gas, for its part, has already agreed to use some of its profits to help customers with bills. But the broader reform of the energy market is as unfortunate as all the other major reforms that are lost when a ruling party has three prime ministers in a matter of months.

Shapps should urgently seek cheap, “social” tariffs for those who would otherwise never be able to pay their bills, including sick and disabled people with power-hungry medical equipment at home, plus an immediate end to fee tyranny. Customers in the meter prepaid rate above all. But when electricity, water, food, rent and transport are all on the rise, this is not a problem that a cabinet minister can solve alone.

If there’s any good news here, it’s in the bank’s suggestion that it’s dark before the sunrise. With inflation picking up, the coming recession won’t be as bad as it could be, and things could look a lot brighter by the fall, if we can hang in there. If so, that’s all the more reason to catch people before they fall down a rabbit hole of debt that could last for years.

All it takes is one missed payment to start a chain reaction of charges, fines, sleepless nights and hiding from creditors that leads to bailiffs being called. But the real skill is to intervene long before they knock on an old woman’s door.

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