NORTHERN Isles MP Alistair Carmichael says it is “deeply concerning” that energy supplier Bulb is set to increase its prices for the second time this year amid continued worry over the high levels of fuel poverty in Shetland.
He said everyone has a right to compare electric deals and encouraged people to switch if they are struggling.
Bulb told direct debit customers on Saturday that it would be raising its prices by an average of 8.2 per cent per home in mid-June due to the wholesale cost of energy increasing.
It says this equates to typical home paying £69 more a year. The electricity day unit rate will rise from 20.255p to 20.429p per kWh and the night unit rate will jump from 12.096p to 13.963p per kWh.
The electricity standing charge is also increasing. It comes after another price hike imposed by Bulb back in April.
The supplier said that wholesale costs have doubled in the past year, and are up 29 per cent on March, but it added that it is an issue affecting all energy companies.
It said that since September Bulb’s Varifair tariff increases have always been less than other major suppliers’ increases on their fixed tariffs, in both percentage and cash terms.
Bulb, which has more than 1.6 million customers in the UK and is described by the Financial Times as Europe’s fastest-growing company, said it will drop its prices if its costs fall by £20 a year for an average home.
The issue of fuel poverty, where more than 10 per cent of net income after housing costs are deducted is spent on heating, has been rumbling on for years in Shetland.
Figures released in February showed that 31 per cent of households in Shetland live in fuel poverty, and 22 per suffer from extreme fuel poverty, which is when the 10 per cent figure rises to 20 per cent.
Carmichael said the two price hikes from Bulb in quick succession is concerning – especially “when many people are still struggling to make ends meet due to Covid”.
“We all want our bills to be more responsive to energy price changes but it appears that suppliers are always quicker to raise prices when they have the opportunity than to lower them,” he said.
“It is for exactly this sort of reason that Beatrice Wishart MSP and I are pursuing further action from Ofgem on fuel poverty and poor supplier behaviour in the isles.
“Despite some misinformation occasionally given out by suppliers, everyone has the right to compare and switch to get a better deal in the face of price hikes – I would encourage anyone affected by this latest hike to do so.”
A spokesperson for Bulb said the company’s priority is to “help our members if they’re struggling financially, and we ask them to contact us if they’re worried about paying their bills”.
“We’ll try to be flexible where we can, with options such as alternative payment methods and longer repayment periods,” they said.
“We offer additional financial support with the Warm Home Discount and the Bulb Energy Fund, and we work with Citizens Advice to help give our members financial advice and support.
“We also fund the installation of energy efficient features in our members’ homes through the ECO scheme, which is designed to help tackle fuel poverty and lower carbon emissions.”
The company added that its “plans reflect the true cost of energy, so they go up and down to reflect wholesale prices – this is different to most other suppliers, who provide fixed deals and a more expensive standard variable tariff”.
Meanwhile, Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart has again called on the Scottish Government to “start prioritising fuel poverty, not kick it into the long grass”.
It comes after a parliamentary question from the Liberal Democrat on the progress of the government’s fuel poverty strategy.
Cabinet secretary for net zero, energy and transport Michael Matheson said: “We remain committed to finalising the fuel poverty strategy later this year.”
Wishart commented afterwards that “with family finances stretched more than ever, those affected can ill-afford continued delays in taking action”.
“The pandemic has inevitably disrupted the work of government, and that’s understandable, but pausing all work on the fuel poverty Strategy for over a year is difficult to justify when other projects have progressed,” she said.
Information and help on paying for energy is available locally through the Citizens Advice Bureau. It can be contacted on 01595 694696 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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