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British Gas to stop sly remote switches to prepayment meters

Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

The energy giant says it will no longer remotely switch struggling customers to prepayment meters – but it won’t stop the forced physical installation of them.

Towards the end of last year, energy companies were under fire by the regulator over their ‘backdoor’ policy which saw smart meter customers automatically and remotely switched to prepayment meters without their permission.

The controversial move meant that in some extreme cases, customers were left without power for days or even weeks, as they couldn’t afford to top up, according to Ofgem.

Following calls by charities and MPs to ban forced prepayment meter switches, British Gas has now confirmed it will stop doing this. It will also introduce extra checks to find out if customers are vulnerable and in need of support to prevent them being cut off from energy supplies.

However, British Gas confirmed it will continue to install prepayment meters where it deems necessary. Energy firms said generally, this is a last resort and a method of preventing large amounts of debt from being built up.

The move comes as recent Citizens Advice research highlighted that some people on prepayment meters are ‘self-disconnecting’ – when they haven’t got money to top up the meter – and not seeking help.

Prepayment meter installation

Prepayment meters require ‘topping up’ with credit via a key, card or app, in order for customers to pay for energy in advance of using it. Paying for energy this way is more expensive than paying by direct debit or on receipt of a bill (post-pay).

Energy customers who run up debts with their supplier are often forced to switch to a prepayment meter. In some cases, energy suppliers get a warrant to enter a customer’s home and fit the new meter.

However, if a property has a smart meter, the move to prepayment can be carried out remotely by the supplier and without agreement from the customer. This is controversial as customers struggling with high bills often have this change forced upon them.

Chris O’Shea, CEO of Centrica, parent company of British Gas, said: “We know that some prepayment customers are self-disconnecting and not coming forward for help, so we have reviewed our policies to do more to target support at this group. As a responsible business we are doing all we can to support our customers during this crisis – our work with the British Gas Energy Trust provides grants and money advice services.”

More support

British Gas also said it’s committing £10m of customer support for vulnerable prepayment customers together with the introduction of new policies to ensure help gets to those who need it most. 

The support will include discretionary support like non-repayable credit up to £250 on the prepayment meters for those struggling with energy costs. 

Prepayment customers do not need to contact British Gas to apply for this – those who are eligible and need help will be identified and provided with this support.

Related: Moving to an energy prepayment meter: Everything you need to know.