Miliband vows to force vote as Tories feel heat on energy bills

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ED Miliband has promised to force a Commons vote on Labour plans to cut costs for the elderly as pressure grows on the Government over energy prices.

The Energy Department announced yesterday that households could get up to £1,000 cashback if they sign up to a scheme to make their homes more energy- efficient.

Thousands of the first applicants to the “green deal” scheme, which covers the upfront costs of improvements such as insulation and new boilers and allows home owners to pay the money back through savings on bills, will benefit from £125m funding.

Households which secure cashback under the first £40m funding tranche will get £270 back for upgrading their gas boiler from non-condensing to condensing, £100 for loft insulation and £250 for cavity wall insulation.

To receive funding, which is being handed out on a first-come, first-served basis, people need to have a green deal assessment carried out on their property and then install some or all of the improvements recommended.

The announcement came after confusion over energy pricing arose when Prime Minister David Cameron said on Wednesday that legislation would require energy companies to put all their customers on the lowest tariff.

But following his comments, Energy Secretary Ed Davey distanced himself from the proposal and No 10 said energy firms would be obliged only to “offer” the cheapest tariffs.

Mr Cameron later stopped short of repeating his previous suggestion and said he wanted to be on the side of hard-pressed people “who struggle to pay energy bills”.

Labour leader Mr Miliband said his party’s alternative proposals – to require energy companies to put all over-75s on their lowest tariff – offered the chance for MPs to vote for “real action”.

He said he would use Labour’s opposition day debate in the House on Wednesday so MPs could vote on the proposed measures.

“The Prime Minister said he wanted real action, we’ve proposed real action but unlike the stuff that he made up, it is practical and will work,” he said.

Mr Miliband warned that Mr Cameron’s call for the companies to put all consumers on the lowest tariff would lead to a rise in prices.

Labour estimates that up to four million people could benefit from its plan to ensure the over-75s – who find it most difficult to shop around – were put on the lowest tariffs.

“It is much harder to get the over-75s to shop around, to go on the internet,” he said.

“It is incredibly confusing. We think there is an argument for saying to all of the elderly population – let’s just guarantee you the lowest tariffs.”

The Labour package also includes plans to break up the “big six” energy companies and allow new players to enter the market by forcing them to auction the power they generate.

Labour also wants to replace regulator Ofgem with a new watchdog with the power to order the companies to pass on cuts in the wholesale price of energy to the consumer.

“We don’t think that Ofgem is up to the task,” he said. “The problem people find is that when wholesale costs go up, the costs seem to be immediately passed on to the consumer. When wholesale costs fall, price cuts don’t seem to be passed on.”

Ofgem yesterday unveiled plans to ensure customers are offered the cheapest deals.

Proposed reforms will force energy firms to tell customers about their best electricity and gas deals and cut the number of core tariffs to four per fuel type.

Ofgem chief executive Alistair Buchanan said: “Our plans will put an end to consumers being confused by complex tariffs and will usher in a simpler, clearer, fairer and more competitive energy market for all consumers.”

Ofgem also proposed that suppliers provide vulnerable customers and others who have not switched for some time details of the cheapest tariff across the whole energy market.

And in a bid to make the market “fairer”, it said it plans to ban price increases or other changes to fixed-term tariffs.