§ Viscount Cranborne
asked the Secretary of State for Energy what progress his Department has made in its investigations into the effect of standing charges for pensioners and other low income consumers.
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
At the Government's request in October 1982 the gas and electricity industries commissioned independent consultants to check whether the level of standing charges was justified. The consultants reports, completed in January 1983, broadly confirmed that the charges did reasonably reflect costs but made recommendations for future savings. Copies of the reports are in the Library of the House.
Standing charges have been frozen since April 1982 in the case of electricity and October 1982 in the case of gas. Government assistance to those in special need is given through the social security system. Since November 1978 the rates of supplementary benefit, which is intended to cover all basic needs including heating, have risen by 5 per cent. in real terms This year the Government are spending about £400 million on supplementary benefit heating additions, about £140 million more in real terms than was spent in 1978–79. Heating additions are given to 2½ million people, including some 90 per cent. of those pensioners who are on supplementary benefit.
Both BGC and almost all area electricity boards have agreed to limit standing charges to small consumers to not more than 50 per cent. of their total bill. This measure is benefiting about 3 million gas and 2 million electricity consumers, a large number of whom are pensioners.