SOME time ago I wrote to the Keighley News on behalf of Keighley Trades Union Council about the iniquity of standing charges for gas and electricity and our successful resolution to get the TUC to support our campaign to have them abolished. It now seems the time for an update on this issue.

The beginning of October was heralded as a respite in an ever-increasing energy costs spiral when the price cap was lowered – a much trumpeted fall of seven per cent.

However, as I warned, while unit costs might be falling – currently about double compared with two years ago – standing charges have been increased by many providers at a mind-boggling rate of at least 107 per cent for electricity and eight per cent for gas since April 2021, whilst the warm homes discount hasn’t increased since before the energy crisis.

“Unfair standing charges need to go” was the call made by a committee of MPs a month ago but still no action from the Government through the energy regulator OFGEM to replace the current model, which is unfair and regressive and has a disproportionate effect on lower income households. Believe it or not, one of the reasons given for standing charges is meter reading – has anyone seen a meter reader since the beginning of Covid? I doubt it. Surely smart meter reading is not expensive to undertake.

Little wonder the boss of EON told the recent Tory conference that “a section of our customers cannot pay their energy bills – thousands of customers have paid nothing this year”. But what do these free market fundamentalists propose? That you and I, the taxpayer, should bail them out. EDF “is calling on the Government to act” – through general taxation.

Privatisation failing: get out the begging bowl. This while the profits of oil and gas monopolies have gone through the roof. It’s transparent that there is fear of bills being unpaid, risking the solvency of these companies in the light of the continuing cost-of-living crisis faced by millions One small chink of light in this gloom came from Octopus Energy CEO Greg Jackson who has agreed that standing charges disproportionately impact lower income households, when he said “it’s hard to justify a meter racking up hundreds of pounds a year when there is hardly any usage. We’d like to see the regulator fix this by moving more costs from standing charges on to unit costs so that those who use less don’t get penalised”.

We of course could suggest some other ideas – a mass insulation programme, a social tariff, and dare we mention it, social ownership/nationalisation.

However in the meantime perhaps we should encourage everyone to sign up with Octopus (competition is a myth anyway), and tell Mr Jackson why, but then insist that he follow his argument to its logical conclusion and join our campaign to abolish these outrageous charges altogether.

With the current crises in both Ukraine and the Middle East it is now almost inevitable that energy prices will rise in January by more than the seven per cent reduction in October, so action needs to be taken to help families. The long-awaited abolition of standing charges might only be a small help but it would be a significant change showing that we actually have a Government willing to listen.

Sandy MacPherson, Keighley Trades Union Council