HC Deb 25 June 1976 vol 913 cc427-9W
Mr. Mike Thomas

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what arrangements have been made to monitor disconnections of pensioner households which have been avoided as a result of his request to fuel boards not to disconnect such households; and what is his estimate of the number of households which would otherwise have been disconnected.

Mr. Oakes

The Electricity Council and the British Gas Corporation expect that the great majority of all-pensioner household consumers will have paid or made arrangements to have paid their accounts fairly quickly after 1st June. To ease the burden for the few consumers who have neither paid nor provided for payment, boards will offer the opportunity of spreading forward outstanding debts so that these can be cleared by instalments over the summer months. These arrangements will be co-ordinated with the existing liaison procedures with the Department of Health and Social

servants in Scotland, Wales and England, respectively, are employed in each of the Petroleum Production Divisions of the Department of Energy, the Offshore Supplies Office, the North Sea Oil Support Unit and the Scottish Industrial Development Office; and what are the costs involved.

Mr. Charles R. Morris

The information is as follows:

Security whereby people of retirement age in debt for fuel are referred to the local Supplementary Benefit Commission officer. It is not possible to distinguish pensioners who were not disconnected as a direct result of the suspension of disconnections from those who were not disconnected due to the continued application of the industries' existing practices designed to protect cases of identified hardship.

Mr. Mike Thomas

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what is his estimate of the amount of the financial advantage in terms of cash flow that the electricity and gas boards, respectively, would gain if all domestic consumers paid in advance through the purchase of tokens for their gas and electricity rather than in arrears as at present.

Mr. Oakes

While in theory there might be an improvement in the cash flow of the gas and electricity industries if token operated meters were widely accepted, this would depend on a number of factors including the written-off value of the meters which were replaced, the manufacturing, installation and maintenance charges for the new meters and the cost of manufacturing and distributing the tokens. It would be premature to speculate on the net cash flow position before studies and costings have reached a much more advanced stage.

Mr. Mike Thomas

asked the Secretary of State for Energy (1) whether he is satisfied with the steps the Electricity Council is taking to examine token-operated prepayment meters and in particular with the suggested time-scale of two years or more;

(2) whether the Electricity Council has reported to him the nature of its inquiry into token-operated pre-payment meters; whether he will list the range of the questions to be asked in the inquiry, and if he will give details of its cost.

Mr. Oakes

I am satisfied that the Electricity Council has acted with commendable speed in undertaking to examine the possibility of using token-operated meters. The council informs me that it is investigating two aspects, namely, the technical specification for such meters and consumer reaction to them. The necessary consumer research includes field trials which are likely to last at least two years as the area boards wish to ascertain whether consumers would prefer these devices in practice and whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. As I said in my recent report on payment and collection methods, even on most favourable assumptions token-operated meters are not a short-term prospect. The details of the inquiry which the Electricity Council is conducting together with a number of area boards are matters for the council.

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