SOUTH Down MP Margaret Ritchie has backed a Parliamentary Motion calling for energy companies to stop penalising customers who cannot pay their energy bill by direct debit.
Speaking in the House of Commons debate on the matter, Ms Ritchie said: “The practice of energy companies passing on excessive charges to consumers for non-direct debit payments needs to end. This is not a simple matter of consumer choice, as an enormous number of people have no access to a bank account and 45 per cent of all bill payers, including many of those with bank accounts, don’t pay using direct debit for a variety of very valid reasons. These people, who pay their bills in full and on time, should not be penalised because of the payment method.
“In today’s economy every pound counts for families and, sadly those facing such penalties, which can amount to hundreds of pounds a year, are often also the people who are most likely to be facing fuel poverty or for whom such an amount of money will make the biggest difference. They are the people most likely to be pushed into financial difficulties by such charges and who have the least flexibility when it comes to arranging their financial affairs. It is hugely unfair that a group of customers with limited financial means should subsidise cheaper bills for those who have the luxury of choice.
“It is understandable if a company wants to give a small discount to customers for paying by direct debit and that is an entirely valid pricing structure, providing it reflects the genuine saving to the company of the payment option. However, pricing options should offer consumers choice rather than impose charges due to constraints on certain consumers.
“I am pleased David Cameron has called for a probe into these excessive costs and the UK Department for Energy and Climate Change will be investigating the situation. It is important they also consider the market in Northern Ireland and liaise with the local regulator when doing so.”]]>