Energy prepayment meters: Fury as force-fittings to be allowed again amid cost of living crisis
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Campaigners have hit out at tougher rules over which homes can be forced to have a prepayment energy meter fitted amid the cost of living crisis. Under the stricter measures, Ofgem said customers must be given more chance to clear their debts and forced meter fittings will be banned at homes with residents all over the age of 85.
The new rules are currently voluntary, but Ofgem said they would soon be made mandatory. However, charities and campaign groups have warned they do not go far enough to protect vulnerable people, with some calling for a total ban, including disability equality charity Scope.
All fittings were halted in February after an investigation by The Times exposed agents for British Gas breaking into homes to fit meters. Although switching people on to prepayment meters without their consent has become more common since energy prices increased, campaigners say it leaves vulnerable customers at risk of losing access to heat and light.
Simon Francis, coordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, said the new rules "do not go far enough" and Citizens Advice said they should be made mandatory swiftly. Shadow climate and net zero secretary Ed Miliband called for the Government to step in over the issue.
He posted on Twitter: “Today’s action on prepayment meters is not good enough. It is wrong that these rules still allow those with conditions like Alzheimer’s, the recently bereaved, those over 75, those with young children to be forced onto prepayment meters.
“The bare minimum is that the so-called ‘medium-risk’ category should be protected from forced installation. Discretion for the energy companies is not the answer. This is not simply a matter for Ofgem. Government needs to toughen the rules.”
Ofgem chief executive Jonathan Brearley told BBC’s Today programme that the regulator needed to balance managing debt while protecting vulnerable customers. He added: "We cannot look at everything that suppliers do, so we cannot guarantee there will be no bad practice out there.
“But we have the ability to go deep into a company to see what is happening.”
New rules on forced energy prepayment meter fittings
Under the measures, suppliers will now have to make at least 10 attempts to contact a customer and conduct a "site welfare visit" before a prepayment meter is fitted at their home. Agents also have to wear body cameras or audio equipment.
- Suppliers will not be allowed to fit meters for customers over 85, without someone else in the house, or anyone with a terminal illness
- Those forced onto a prepayment meter will be given £30 of credit initially to reduce the risk of them losing supply
- Those who need a continuous supply for health reasons, and those physically or mentally unable to top up will not be switched
- If a customer has repaid what they owed, then their case can be reassessed and they may be able to move back off a prepayment meter