Ofgem ignored 140,000 debt complaints before British Gas scandal

Original article republished from open Democracy under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Image of banknotes and prepayment meter key
More than 30,000 complaints were about the disconnection and forced installation of prepayment meters. Image of banknotes and a prepayment meter key

Exclusive: Energy regulator forced into action this week did nothing about mountain of complaints last year

Adam Bychawski

3 February 2023, 1.53pm

Energy companies received more than 140,000 complaints about their treatment of customers in debt last year alone, openDemocracy can reveal.

They included 33,000 complaints about the fitting or disconnecting of pre-payment meters.

Yet the energy regulator Ofgem was only forced into action this week when an undercover Times investigation found British Gas had sent bailiffs to break into vulnerable people’s homes and fit the meters by force. It has now asked energy companies to pause the practice.

The data, obtained by openDemocracy through a Freedom of Information request, has revealed for the first time the scale of alleged mistreatment of vulnerable customers since the energy price cap was first hiked in April.

“Ofgem has known about this crisis for years, and so have the companies themselves. Suppliers are not being honest when they act like they’ve just discovered it and they’re shocked, like the CEO of Centrica did yesterday,” Ruth London, co-founder of the Fuel Poverty Action campaign group, told openDemocracy.

Energy companies are required to report the number of complaints they receive from customers every month to Ofgem. Between January and October last year, they received 146,046 complaints related to disconnection and debt issues – though Ofgem has refused to tell us which suppliers received the most.

The category includes complaints from customers about their energy supply being disconnected or having a prepayment meter installed forcibly without a warrant or despite them being vulnerable.

Other examples of complaints include customers being disconnected by error or without due process and being put on debt repayment plans that are unsuitable or unaffordable.

The true number of people being ill-treated is likely to be much higher. Ofgem revealed yesterday that customers were being left on hold for hours by energy companies, leading to more than half hanging up before they could report an issue.

Ofgem said revealing how many complaints different companies had received would breach Section 105 of the 2000 Utilities Act, which states that the public disclosure of information companies supply to the regulator is prohibited in order to protect national security. The law has previously been criticised for preventing whistleblowers from raising issues about the energy sector that are in the public interest.

The regulator said yesterday that it was “unacceptable” to forcibly install prepayment meters before all other options had been exhausted, and has launched an urgent investigation into British Gas

But charities have criticised the regulator for ignoring calls to end the practice for months.

“Lives have been and are being lost because of their silence and refusal to act on the truth they have long known,” said London.

Clare Moriarty, the chief executive of Citizens Advice, said it “should not have taken this long” for Ofgem to act. 

The charity said it saw more people unable to afford to top up their pre-payment metre last year than for the entirety of the previous decade combined.

The Times reported this week that British Gas customers who had prepayment meters forcibly installed included a woman in her 50s who the company’s bailiffs were told had severe mental health problems and a mother whose “daughter is disabled and has a hoist and electric wheelchair”.

The paper’s undercover investigation also alleged that the Arvato Financial Solutions employees were incentivised with bonuses to fit prepayment meters. The boss of British Gas owner Centrica apologised and said he was “disappointed, livid and gutted” on Thursday.

Last year, a non-executive director at the regulator resigned saying Ofgem had “not struck the right balance between the interests of consumers and interests of suppliers”.

Peter Smith, policy director at the charity National Energy Action, said: “The recent announcement by major suppliers that they would temporarily pause forced installations of pre-payment meters is welcome, but this was prompted by public shaming of suppliers and there is still no market-wide ban.

“We also desperately need a coherent plan to help millions of people already trapped on prepayment meters. This means rewiring the energy market to provide more affordable tariffs and finding new ways to address the underlying debt issues which are rife due to soaring energy costs.”

Richard Lane, Director of External Affairs at StepChange Debt Charity, said: “We welcome Ofgem’s move to suspend the forced installation of prepayment meters (PPMs), but it’s clear that thousands of households have been struggling with energy bills for some time now, which is evident in our own client data.

“For the people that have already been moved onto PPMs, there must be better protection to prevent self-disconnection and extreme energy rationing.”

Original article republished from open Democracy under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Continue ReadingOfgem ignored 140,000 debt complaints before British Gas scandal

Green Party becomes largest group on Bristol City Council following by-election victory

https://bright-green.org/2023/02/03/green-party-becomes-largest-group-on-bristol-city-council-following-by-election-victory/

Green co-leader and Bristol councillor Carla Denyer and Patrick McAllister

The Green Party now has more Councillors than any other party on Bristol City Council. That follows a by-election on February 2 which saw the Greens gain a seat from the Liberal Democrats.

The Greens’ Patrick McAllister won the Hotwells & Harbourside election by just 26 votes. McAllister received 537 votes to the Liberal Democrat candidate’s 511.

McAllister is now the Greens’ 25th Councillor in Bristol. With Labour having 24 Councillors, McAllister’s victory makes the Green Group the largest on the City Council for the first time ever.

Continue ReadingGreen Party becomes largest group on Bristol City Council following by-election victory

Fossil fuel giant Shell reveals highest profits in its history

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/b/fossil-fuel-giant-shell-reveals-highest-profits-in-its-history

Unions call on government to ‘expand windfall tax on energy producers’ as public face 40% hike in bills from April

Activists gather at Glengad Beach in Co Mayo as the pipe laying vessel the Solitaire makes its way into Broadhaven Bay

THE government must “get real” on profiteering and increase windfall taxes on oil and gas companies, campaigners and unions urged today as Shell revealed its highest profits in its history.

The oil giant said that core profits rocketed to $84.3 billion (£68.1bn) in 2022 in what is one of the highest gains ever recorded by a British company.

The public face a 40 per cent hike in energy bills from April on top of soaring bills and the cost-of-living crisis.

Following pressure, the government launched a windfall tax, called the energy profits levy, on bumper profits made by producers last year.

Shell said it was due to pay $134 million (£109m) through the levy for 2022, representing just a fraction of its mammoth profit.

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/b/fossil-fuel-giant-shell-reveals-highest-profits-in-its-history

Continue ReadingFossil fuel giant Shell reveals highest profits in its history

British Gas halts use of warrants to force people on to prepayment meters

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2023/feb/01/british-gas-halts-use-of-warrants-to-force-people-on-to-prepayment-meters-allegations-vulnerable-customers-break-in

Image of banknotes and prepayment meter key
Banknotes and a prepayment meter key

Move follows allegations that third-party agents ignored vulnerabilities of customers and broke in to install equipment

British Gas has suspended the use of court warrants to force the installation of prepayment meters after evidence that agents working on its behalf ignored customers’ vulnerabilities.

MPs and consumer groups had raised concerns that elderly and disabled people were being forced on to prepayment meters and then routinely cut off from heat and power as they could not afford to top up.

Wednesday’s decision came after an investigation by the Times alleged that Arvato Financial Solutions, a company used by British Gas to pursue debts, had broken into homes to fit meters when there were signs that young children and people with disabilities lived in the property. AFS employees are incentivised with bonuses to fit prepayment meters.

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2023/feb/01/british-gas-halts-use-of-warrants-to-force-people-on-to-prepayment-meters-allegations-vulnerable-customers-break-in

Ofgem statement on British Gas prepayment meter installations

“These are extremely serious allegations from The Times. We are launching an urgent investigation into British Gas and we won’t hesitate to take firm enforcement action.

“It is unacceptable for any supplier to impose forced installations on vulnerable customers struggling to pay their bills before all other options have been exhausted and without carrying out thorough checks to ensure it is safe and practicable to do so.

“We have launched a major market-wide review investigating the rapid growth in prepayment meter installations and potential breaches of licences driving it.

“We are clear that suppliers must work hard to look after their customers at this time, especially those who are vulnerable. The energy crisis is no excuse for unacceptable behaviour towards any customer, particularly those in vulnerable circumstances.”

Continue ReadingBritish Gas halts use of warrants to force people on to prepayment meters

Britain faces biggest day of strike action in over a decade

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/b/britain-faces-its-biggest-day-strike-action-more-decade

Half a million workers down tools over pay, jobs and working conditions

Protesters outside Downing Street, London, demonstrating against the new law on strikes

BRITAIN faces its biggest day of strike action in more than a decade today as up to half a million workers down tools over pay, jobs and working conditions.

Teachers, lecturers, civil servants and train and bus drivers are set to withdraw their labour simultaneously, as the fightback against more than a decade of Tory austerity gathers pace.

The TUC is holding events nationwide as part of its “protect the right to strike day” after ministers rushed “authoritarian and draconian” anti-worker legislation through the Commons on Monday night.

The union body demanded the government drop the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill, which is likely to face stiff opposition in the House of Lords, and instead “get round the table to negotiate in good faith on public-sector pay.”

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/b/britain-faces-its-biggest-day-strike-action-more-decade

Continue ReadingBritain faces biggest day of strike action in over a decade

Oxford council calls for Thames Water to be taken into public ownership

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/b/oxford-council-calls-for-thames-water-to-be-taken-into-public-ownership

Workers from Thames Water delivering a temporary water supply from a tanker

CAMPAIGNERS have welcomed Oxford City Council’s unanimous vote in favour of calling for Thames Water to be taken into public ownership following a motion to end water privatisation.

The motion, proposed by Green Party councillors Chris Jarvis and Lois Muddiman, will also see the council writing to the firm to request that its chief executive officer Sarah Bentley attend a meeting with them.

Since water was privatised in England in 1989, over £72 billion has been paid in dividends to privateer shareholders, while infrastructure has deteriorated.

According to the GMB union’s research, Thames Water lets 635 million litres of water leak out of its system every day, equivalent to leaving a hosepipe on for 73 years.

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/b/oxford-council-calls-for-thames-water-to-be-taken-into-public-ownership

Continue ReadingOxford council calls for Thames Water to be taken into public ownership

AI Predicts Warming Will Surpass 1.5 C in a Decade

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ai-predicts-warming-will-surpass-1-5-c-in-a-decade/

New research from artificial intelligence projects that global warming will hit the threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius somewhere between 2033 and 2035

Scientists have long known the world is running out of time to hit its international climate targets. Now, artificial intelligence has arrived at a similar conclusion.

An innovative new AI study finds that it will take about a decade for humanity to blow past its optimistic goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

That’s the same conclusion scientists have come to when using more conventional climate modeling techniques, but the AI research adds more evidence to the growing conviction among climate scientists and policy experts that the world is all but certain to overshoot the 1.5 C target (Climatewire, Nov. 11, 2022).

Policymakers are still striving to keep global warning well below 2 C, even if they overshoot the 1.5 C target. But even that goal is in danger, according to the AI study. It found that the 2 C threshold could approach even faster than previous research has predicted.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ai-predicts-warming-will-surpass-1-5-c-in-a-decade/

Climate crisis: UN finds ‘no credible pathway to 1.5C in place’

Continue ReadingAI Predicts Warming Will Surpass 1.5 C in a Decade

openDemocracy’s corruption revelations see UK plunge in global ranking

Original article republished from Open |Democracy under under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Government rule breaches are to blame for UK’s corruption nadir, says Transparency International

Image of Elmo and former Prime Minister Tory idiot Boris Johnson
Image of Elmo and former Prime Minister Tory idiot Boris Johnson

openDemocracy’s revelations of corruption in UK public life have been cited in a damning new index that ranks perceptions of Britain’s transparency at an all-time low.

A ‘poll of polls’ by Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) found industry experts think the UK is more corrupt than ever.

The UK’s CPI score is based on data from eight independent sources including the Economist Intelligence Unit and the World Economic Forum, who surveyed experts and business executives for their views on abuses of public office for private gain and bribery in the UK.

Britain scored 73 this year, down from 78 in 2022, on a scale where zero means a country is perceived as highly corrupt and 100 means it is perceived as very clean. The NGO cited several pieces of journalism by openDemocracy as partial explanation for the slump, which saw the UK tumble in the global rankings from 11th to 18th.

They include revelations in November 2021 that former Tory Party treasurers appeared to be guaranteed peerages so long as they donated more than £3m to the party.

The NGO also pointed to 40 potential breaches of the ministerial code in the last five years that were not investigated as another factor likely contributing to the UK’s fall in the rankings.

openDemocracy was cited as revealing four of these breaches, one of which involved the government keeping large payments to the former prime minister Boris Johnson and other ministers secret for up to eight months. 

Other potential breaches discovered by this website include an MP failing to disclose that he owns a private PR company, and the blocking of Freedom of Information requests by a department that was then under Michael Gove’s watch.

Last year, the Cabinet Office insisted it would radically overhaul an ‘Orwellian’ government unit, almost two years after openDemocracy first revealed that it was vetting Freedom of Information requests.

Only five of the 180 countries assessed by Transparency for the 2022 Index saw their year-on-year scores drop by five or more points. The UK (-5) was joined by World Cup 2022 host Qatar (-5), Myanmar (-5), Azerbaijan (-7), and Oman (-8).

The countries perceived to be the least corrupt were Denmark, Finland and New Zealand, while those ranked most corrupt were South Sudan, Syria and Somalia. 

Transparency International acknowledged that most countries at the bottom of its index were either currently experiencing conflict or had recently done so. It added that although most Western European countries had been ranked higher than African, Asian and Middle Eastern countries, they in fact played a central role in fostering global corruption.

“For decades, they have welcomed dirty money from abroad, allowing kleptocrats to increase their wealth, power and destructive geopolitical ambitions,” the report said.

Original article republished from Open |Democracy under under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Continue ReadingopenDemocracy’s corruption revelations see UK plunge in global ranking

Dutch Extinction Rebellion announces another A12 highway blockade in March

https://nltimes.nl/2023/01/30/extinction-rebellion-announces-another-a12-highway-blockade-march

Climate group Extinction Rebellion plans to again block the A12 highway in The Hague on Saturday, March 11. That would be the sixth time the climate activists blocked this stretch of highway.

Extinction Rebellion activists blocked the Utrechtsebaan, the stretch of the A12 in The Hague that runs by the temporary parliament building and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy, this past Saturday. The highway was impassable for hours.

The police arrested over 700 people at the protest. Many hundreds of people stood above the tunnel pit to express support and cheer the activists on.

https://nltimes.nl/2023/01/30/extinction-rebellion-announces-another-a12-highway-blockade-march

Continue ReadingDutch Extinction Rebellion announces another A12 highway blockade in March

Labour forces Holocaust survivor out of party with expulsion threat email

Original article republished from The Skwawkbox for non-Commercial use

Stephen Kapos says he has a duty to teach others about his experience whether Starmer and co like it or not

As Skwawkbox predicted last week, Holocaust survivor Stephen Kapos has been driven out of the Labour party in yet another demonstration of the antisemitism and arrogance of the Labour right.

Kapos, who survived the slaughter of Jewish people as a boy, received an email last week from the party threatening him with expulsion if he spoke about his experience at a Socialist Labour Network event last Friday, which was Holocaust Memorial Day:

Date: 24 January 2023 at 20:09:05 GMT

Subject:FAO: Stephen Kapos

Dear Stephen, 

It has been brought to the attention of the Labour Party that you have been advertised as a speaker for an event entitled ‘Zionism During the Holocaust – Reclaiming the Memory of All Those Who Died’,  hosted by Socialist Labour Network on Friday 27th January 2023.

In line with Labour Party rules, Socialist Labour Network is a group which the NEC of the party has determined is incompatible with Labour Party values. Any support for the organisation would likely be deemed in breach of Party rules and may lead to expulsion. 

Yours sincerely,

London Labour 

But rather than back down to the cowardly threat, to which the party drone who sent it didn’t even dare put his or her name, Kapos – a constituent of party leader Keir Starmer – resigned his membership, saying that his duty to teach people about the terrible slaughter at every opportunity – and to stand up against Israeli apartheid against Palestinians – was too important to bow to petty tyrants and their so-called ‘Labour values’:

Dear London General, 

Thank you for your emailed letter of the 24th of January giving me advance warning that I am likely to be expelled from the Party if I were to speak from the panel as a Holocaust survivor at the SLN (Socialist Labour Network) Webinar on the 27th January — on Holocaust Memorial Day.

The Holocaust is the most important single example of genocide, which at its worst descended into an industrial process of mass murder of millions.

As a child survivor and one of the fewer and fewer still living direct witnesses to the Holocaust I feel a compelling duty to bear witness and speak out about it at any platform that would invite me and to any audience ready to listen.

I am an activist for Palestinian human rights and an active member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in its Camden Branch. The defence of Palestinians living under a brutal occupation is very important to me, particularly as a Holocaust survivor. Palestinians live under a system of apartheid as recognised by Amnesty International and other major human-rights organisations. Those are my political beliefs which I claim are protected characteristics under the Equalities Act 2010.

I am not a member of SLN nor have I been following its activities, but via the book to be discussed on the 27th I have a general understanding of SLN’s views on present-day Zionism (as a political movement ) and on some of the actions of the Zionist movement during the Holocaust and WWII.  I am in sympathy with some of those views on the grounds of my political beliefs mentioned above. I have personal experience of the Kastner project in Hungary which was driven by Zionist ideology.

Email and letter details courtesy of Tony Greenstein

Left-wing Jewish activist Tony Greenstein, one of the first to be expelled during Labour’s mass purge of Jews who stand up for Palestinian human rights, published the video of Kapos speaking at the event about what he saw and suffered:

The real and naked antisemitism of the Labour right has somehow failed to feature in the supposed ‘mainstream’ media discourse, despite being far more widespread and concrete than the grossly-exaggerated and often fictional ‘left antisemitism’ that even the Starmer-commissioned Forde Inquiry had to admit was weaponised against the left and Jeremy Corbyn, despite the revelations of the leaked Labour report and Al Jazeera’s ‘Labour Files’ documentary series.

The right’s racism and abuse has also been directed at blackMuslim and Roma Gypsy members with impunity from the party leadership – on the contrary, some culprits have been protected while others have been promoted, while Starmer himself has been accused of covering up for ‘criminal’ abusers of domestic violence victims and for alleged sex pests in his shadow cabinet.

Solidarity with Stephen Kapos and all those targeted by the Labour right’s regime.

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Original article republished from The Skwawkbox for non-Commercial use

Continue ReadingLabour forces Holocaust survivor out of party with expulsion threat email