§ 15. Mr. Martlew
To ask the President of the Board of Trade what plans he has to ensure that customers on prepayment meters are not discriminated against in the competitive energy supply markets after 1998.
Mr. John M. Taylor
Competition is the best way of reducing prices and improving services for all customers. In the competitive gas and electricity markets, all customers of the current public suppliers—including those on pre-payment meters—will be free to choose their supplier.
§ Mr. Martlew
Is it not a fact that those with pre-payment meters now pay considerably more than those who pay by direct debit? With the freeing up of the market, what action will the Government take to protect the poor and most vulnerable from exploitation? Will they give those people hope, and say that they should be paying the least for energy? At present, those people are paying the most.
As the hon. Gentleman says, there is evidence that, historically, additional costs have been involved in supplying pre-payment customers. However, the regulators are charged with ensuring the existence of safeguards against discrimination in the marketplace. New gas suppliers are offering savings to customers, whatever their level of consumption—an average of 15 per cent. to 20 per cent. off—and I understand that new suppliers also plan to offer savings to pre-payment customers.