Back to: In the home agenda
Kaela: The last of our speakers this morning is Dhara Vyas. She's from Citizens' Advice and she is going to talk a bit about how do we ensure that consumer protection and fairness when we're looking at some of these issues? So I'll handover to Dhara, now.
Dhara Vyas: Thank you. And thank you for having me here today. For those of you who don't know Citizens' Advice is an independent charity. We are required by law to give advice to people and also to represent people in the area of energy. So we represent energy consumers and people generally all people who use energy, which is pretty much everyone when government and industry are having discussions about making decisions about energy and the rules, and you've heard what regulations are in things like that. And we have over a 1,000,000 people a year come to us through all of our different channels for advice on things like that. Then our policy works, of the work we do to influence and to talk to government is all evidence-based.#
And consumer protections. Just a quick explainer of what they are, and similar to how Becky set out that some of the rules are before. And they're often set up by law or regulation. So government or the body they've set up to oversee the rules of the market create them and they exist to protect people against unfair practise by companies. So companies that are behaving badly. These are the sorts of things that are in place to protect people and hope that makes sense and happy to unpack it if anybody wants to wave a card at me. And so my presentation is all about how and why we should protect people as the energy market changes, you've all heard quite a lot about how it's going to change. So I'll crack on.#
These are the - sorry oh, yes, I'm sorry. I feel bad not making eye contact with everyone. I'll stop swaying then.#
Okay, so these are the things I'm going to cover. I'm going to talk about why it's important to protect people. I'm going to talk about why is it important to be fair. I'm going to talk about what happens at the moment and what needs to happen next?#
So why is it important to protect people? Everybody needs access to energy for warmth and light, which you've all heard quite a lot about. But our homes, do they need to change? I'm not going to talk about how they need to change because you've heard so much about the different things that you're going to have to happen to our homes, but new technology and potentially quite big changes to the stuff in our homes and the different ways you might buy or use energy. We need to think about how- how or whether everyone can actually make decisions and benefit from these changes. People need to understand why the changes are coming. They'll need information and support to make some of these really quite big decisions and they'll need someone to turn to when things go wrong, because things do go wrong and you need to know how you can get it sorted. And without these things, our view is that public support could really be lost if you aren't actually be taking people with you on these big decisions to get to net-zero.#
So what's vulnerability? There's two main ways of talking about vulnerability. There's static vulnerability where you might need extra support and you might always need extra support. So, for example, good example is, if you need a bill in Braille likelihood is you probably always need that bill in Braille. But vulnerability also changes. And we talk about people being vulnerable at any different point in their life. For example, if you lose your job, if your bereaved or if you have an accident, you're more vulnerable than perhaps if that hadn't happened. And with energy, we also talk about things like people being pregnant or having young children in the home or having a severe illness that could make it even more important to keep warm. So when we're talking about people who are vulnerable is, it's sometimes harder for certain people to make big decisions depending on what's going on in their lives. And because energy is so essential for everyone's life is worth bearing that in mind as you're beginning to make decisions and make recommendations in this aspect of in the home.#
We asked people what they thought about government's carbon emission targets, and over 80% of people are really supportive of the goal to achieve net-zero by 2050. But most people also told us they don't know what it means for them in even people who are willing to make changes to their homes into the way that they heat their homes. They've also told us that you know they'll need quite a lot of information and support to make some of these really big changes and they don't feel confident doing it. Things like getting a low carbon heating system or getting an electric vehicle. It all feels quite unknown to people. So that's the point is that if you're really keen, it's hard.#
So this slide. You might need to look at the papers because I appreciate that that font is not great. And this is an idea of kind of what the house of the future might look like. And I appreciate not every lives in a house, but this is just trying to give you an example of the sorts of things that might change in your home. It's on the roof. You can see solar panels, is external wall insulation, a smart thermostat, smart metre, smart appliances, the example there is a washing machine. Home energy app on somebody's phone or tablet, energy-saving windows, a battery in case you decide to store the energy that you're getting from your solar panels. a heat pump. Smart charger for your car, an electric car. But with all that stuff, there's gonna be potential future what we call future advice needs.#
So the sorts of things people are going to need help with on this. And so again you might need to have a look at the ones on your table. But how do I solve the problem I'm having with my energy company? What do I do if something goes wrong with the installation of something in my house? Who's responsible for all the energy stuff in my rented flat? What support do I get to help me to make these changes? There's also one around, "I've got a problem with my electricity and my appliances, I don't know who's responsible, how can I find out?" How do I pay less? Who can see my data, which is I think is actually quite massive in this space is we all generating sharing a lot more data about how we use energy. Who can see it? What happened to it? How do we know it's secure? And which energy deal is right for me?#
So the most common reasons people come to us today, at Citizens' Advice are around: getting an unprofessional service, having a product or service that they think is not good quality, having had poor information or having had problems with bills or charges. They're types of -these are also the types of problems that I think could get worse in the future. As things change in our home. And there'll be more companies involved. They'll be more things in your home talking to one another and more things potentially switching on and off automatically. So if you've got an energy deal that charges you more or less at different times of day, what we call the time of use tariff and your washing machine is supposed to switch on when its cheapest, but it keeps switching on when its most expensive. And where do you go for help? How do you work out, if it's the energy supplier? Your meter? Is it the washing machine itself? Is it something else? And are there different rules for all those different things? And is it up to you to work that out? Or should there be something on the other side that sorts that for you? You just tell one person, and that gets fixed.#
So this slide is about fairness, and I think you've talked about fairness a little bit with some of the other speakers. We need to think about two things when we talk about fairness, how changes are paid for and how people choose stuff in their home. So how we fairly pay for changes that lots of people benefit from? Things like improving the pipes and wires and making what we call the grid smart. So the way that we pass energy around, how do we make it? How do we make - How do we pay for that fairly? Imagine there are 10 houses on a street and three of those houses have an electric car and two have a hot tub. By the time the next house gets an electric car. When I say electric, I'm talking mostly about the fact that they've got a smart charger. Sorry, I should have been clearer. So charge that switches on and off when it's cheapest and not to use the energy. By the time the next house gets a car, there's quite a lot of pressure on the electricity grid locally. And essentially, the pipes need to be made thicker to carry more electricity. Who pays for that? Is it that person that got the car? Is it everybody on the street? What about the person who lives in a house, which is, And there they rented their bed-bound. They have really high energy bills at home a lot. They need to keep warm, but then the house is really, really inefficient. Should they pay and they're never going to get an electric car or hot tub? How do you make the cost of that fair?#
The other aspect of fairly paying is about how people get the best deals on wide products and services. So we expect people and homes in the future to have more stuff. What -you know, how some people be able to navigate that better than others? For others, it's gonna be really hard because 5.3 million adults don't use the Internet. And if the people who don't choose to use these things do they end up paying more? And then I'll try and be quicker because I'm running out of time.#
So at the moment, most of the cost of the UK's efforts to decarbonise are paid for through bills not taxes. And we also pay for a lot of social-environmental policies through bills, including energy efficiency, you've heard earlier, financial assistance to vulnerable customers in the rollout of smart meters. People who can manage their bills by using less and having a more efficient home, pay less. So this is big question around fairness, Which couple of the other speakers have I've talked about. But today's consumer protections only cover some companies, they don't cover all of them. And I've talked a bit about how, actually there are some rules for some things in the market and other rules for others. It's going to be really, really complicated. And you don't all have the same protections, that support depending on what's in the house. And I think the main thing I want to take away from this slide is that it's messy, it's difficult, and it needs to be better if we're gonna be changing things so dramatically. It needs to be simpler for people.#
So this is my last slide, and I did want to -I'm just probably gonna go over, but I'm just gonna finish on this. It's difficult because you've heard from lots of speakers about the conundrum of cost. One way to think about it is whether some people should just not pay towards decarbonisation or pay less. And I'm sure you're going to talk about that today and next weekend, too. And I think we need to think about how government are going to put people at the heart of these policies, and these are a few ideas. So government right now is talking about the future of heat and how we gonna change everyone to have low carbon heating in their homes. I think what we really need to do is when they're talking about that, it's not just the technology, and there needs to be a real programme of support to help people, to make sure that people understand what their choices are, what their options are, what their finance and funding options are, things like, you know, do we want 0% loans? Do we want tax rebates? I think there's something to really, really consider there about what should a government programme of support look like for the future of people's heat in their homes? Clear information, I think is a given, and there should be a much stronger requirement on companies to give a certain amount of clear information about all of this new energy tech. And the last one is about, actually, all these different rules fall in different markets. I say markets. It could be energy. It could just be a product or a service that isn't necessarily energy. I think what we need to do is make sure government and regulators are talking to each other so that with that washing machine, it's easier for people to get it sorted. And they're not being the ones being passed from pillar to post trying to work out what went wrong. So the onus is on the companies to sort it. That's it.
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