This week in energy: COVID-19 continues to impact energy customers in the UK in various ways, with warnings of a surprise energy bill at the end of the summer. We've also seen precautionary measures by energy suppliers to support prepaid meter customers; Bristol City Council’s intended sale of Bristol Energy after it ran up a major loss; and more. Here's our round-up of what happened in energy in the last seven days…
Customers could face surprise energy bills of around £94
Research conducted by Energy Helpline has reported that UK energy customers could be faced with a surprise £94 energy bill by the end of the summer. That's due to above-average energy consumption, thanks to the lockdown.
It seems that Brits have been consuming 30 per cent more energy than normal, while direct debits remain calculated on the basis of pre-lockdown usage. In some cases this could lead to customers being trapped in a debt-spiral.
The best way of resolving this, of course, is to run an energy comparison and switch energy supplier to take advantage of a cheaper energy deal. However, Energy Helpline is also advising customers to fit energy efficient lightbulbs, take shorter showers and avoid appliances being left on standby.
Assistance for prepaid meter customers
Money Saving Expert (MSE) has advised this week that some people who are self-isolating may experience difficulty in topping up their prepaid meters, but a number of energy companies have said they will assist if necessary.
The Government and energy suppliers have agreed to implement a set of emergency measures specifically to assist prepaid meter customers. These measures include the provision of cards loaded with emergency credit, adding discretionary credit to meters and enabling others to top meters on behalf of those using them. Ofgem has also said it expects providers to support prepaid meter customers, including those in vulnerable circumstances.
Vulnerable customers can also join the Priority Services Register in order to receive various services for free, including advanced notice of planned power cuts, priority support in emergencies and regular meter reading services.
Coronavirus impacts on smart meter installation
MSE has also reported that energy providers have temporarily suspended the installation of smart meters in homes during the lockdown period. This means that engineers will only attend homes if there is an emergency situation, for example involving a loss of energy supply.
However, as lockdown restrictions are eased, providers will again allow engineers to attend homes for meter installation. E.on, Npower, Ovo and SSE have all resumed installation, but this is only in England and only on a limited basis. Clearly, they will not install a meter in any household where someone is self-isolating, at higher risk or has experienced symptoms over the last month or so.
Providers are also letting customers know that an engineer will only attend their home where residents feel comfortable with them doing so.
Bristol City Council to sell Bristol Energy
BBC News and other media have reported that Bristol City Council will now sell its council-owned company Bristol Energy following losses of more than £30 million. Some councillors have called for an inquiry into the matter, which has also been the subject of considerable discussion on social media.
The council finally took the decision to sell Bristol Energy following a recommendation from accountant Ernst and Young. Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees said that he was disappointed that it hadn’t worked.
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