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VICTORIA BISCHOFF: Ofgem throws struggling consumers under the bus


Ofgem’s brutal betrayal: Toothless energy watchdog has thrown Britain’s most vulnerable households under the bus, says VICTORIA BISCHOFF

James Scott worked his whole life as a shop assistant and is now retired.

But in a heart-wrenching TV interview last week, he revealed he has lost a stone in weight because he cannot afford to buy enough food.

James has just £5 to last the week and survives on two meals a day: a bowl of porridge in the morning and two slices of bread with half a tin of beans or spaghetti hoops at night. He knows to the penny how much it costs to heat his meals and can no longer afford a gas supply.

Feeling the squeeze: Four million households are living in fuel poverty, according to National Energy Action and  7.8 million over-65s worry about heating their homes, according to Age UK

Feeling the squeeze: Four million households are living in fuel poverty, according to National Energy Action and  7.8 million over-65s worry about heating their homes, according to Age UK

Yet this modest man, who lives in Blackpool, was almost apologetic as he told the Sky News reporter that he has never struggled like this before. He did not even complain when he was served chicken pasta by the soup kitchen despite being vegetarian.

James just accepted the meal gratefully and ate everything except the meat.

There is a reason why we pack so many human stories into Money Mail each week. It can be easy to glaze over when it comes to figures. 

Numbers such as 6.5 million households living in fuel poverty (National Energy Action). Or 7.8 million over-65s worried about heating their homes (Age UK).

But the moment you put a face on a figure, it suddenly becomes very hard to look away.

So while the powers-that-be claim to understand the urgency of the cost-of-living squeeze, I respectively request they spend a little more time speaking to real people like James.

Perhaps then, they wouldn’t sometimes appear so out of touch when discussing the issue. Consumer champion Martin Lewis understands this all too well. He spends most days working to understand the hardships faced by ordinary households.

And that’s no doubt why he lost his temper so spectacularly on Monday upon learning energy watchdog Ofgem had thrown consumers under the bus.

The idea that households may not only face bill hikes in the depths of winter, but also miss out on cheaper fixed deals as a result of changes to how the energy price cap works is unforgivable.

Just like Mr Lewis, we too have a very large postbag here at Money Mail. And as someone who spends most of her time poring over moving reader emails and letters, I admit to having made a few choice remarks of my own this week.

Hefty fines

Speaking of poignant reader correspondence, we were amazed — if not entirely surprised — by your response to the launch of our ‘Pick up or pay up’ campaign last week.

We are calling on the Government to introduce a new law that will mean firms are hit with hefty fines if they do not answer their customer service helplines within ten minutes. 

And judging by the experiences you have shared over the past week, it cannot come soon enough.

In fact, one email made my eyebrows almost disappear into my hairline.

Money Mail reader Dave said that when he recently called BT, the customer service representative (who was working from home) put him on hold after complaining that the phone kept ringing while she was trying to get her dinner. 

I was also deeply troubled to learn of reader Gareth Parry’s difficulties navigating voice recognition technology after undergoing treatment for throat cancer.

When someone calls a helpline, it’s because they want to speak to a human. They do not want to be told to go online (if they could, they no doubt tried that first) and they certainly do not want to be forced to press an interminable number of buttons before even getting into the queue.

Scam alert

Whenever I visit a company’s website, an alert almost always pops up urging me to use its mobile app instead.

And while I do love a good app, our report means I’ll certainly be watching what I download in future.

It was a stern reminder there is no low scammers won’t stoop to — and we must be on our guard.

[email protected]

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