MPs warn of ban on gas disconnections

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THE GOVERNMENT should ban energy suppliers from disconnecting households unless the industry radically improves its arrangements for dealing with vulnerable and aged customers who have difficulty paying their bills, an influential committee of MPs recommends today.

The Commons Trade and Industry Select Committee says that ministers should consider introducing legislation if the energy industry fails to put its house in order and tighten procedures. Consumer groups welcomed the report, which comes at a time when domestic energy bills are rocketing, putting more households in danger of having their supply cut off.

Outlining a raft of reforms needed to reduce the level of disconnections, the committee, chaired by the Labour MP Martin O'Neil, said: "Unless the industry demonstrates a serious commitment to and success in addressing these problems, we would recommend the Government to legislate to ban disconnections of domestic fuel supply." The committee said a ban on disconnections would lead to a "significant rise" in bad debts. But it said the onus was on suppliers to do more to help vulnerable customers.

The committee's report adds: "Companies still make too many errors such as wrongly recorded names and addresses or - most frequently - inaccurate meter readings."

Its investigation was prompted by the case of an elderly couple, the Bates, who died after their gas supply was cut off by British Gas. Although the company was not held responsible for their deaths, it was criticised for disconnecting customers who were clearly fragile and vulnerable.

Allan Asher, chief executive of Energywatch, said: "Companies are now on final warning to sort the mess out. That means no more disconnections of vulnerable people and no more disconnections in error."