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Energy prepayment meter users to see greater protections post-Covid

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The energy regulator has announced proposals to further support prepayment meter and vulnerable customers in the aftermath of coronavirus.

Ofgem said it wants to make permanent its current temporary measures to help prepayment meter customers struggling financially as a result of the pandemic.

In March, the regulator and government announced emergency measures to ensure the most vulnerable people remain supplied by gas and electricity during the health crisis.

This was particularly to help those who faced difficulties topping up while self-isolating, meaning they’d go without energy.

And now, Ofgem has proposed to add a permanent condition to suppliers’ licences to ensure they offer emergency and friendly hours credit – for example when top-up points are closed – to all pay-as-you-go customers.

Further, it wants to see suppliers offer additional credit for consumers in vulnerable circumstances to provide breathing space while they work out alternative arrangements to pay.

This would include customers who temporarily can’t afford to top-up or get to their local shop to top-up because of mobility issues or due to self-isolation.

Ofgem said it’s been concerned about increasing numbers of prepayment customers who go without energy or ‘self-disconnect’ after running out of credit on their meter since before Covid-19. Many suppliers already provided extra support, typically £5-£20 credit per fuel at a time, but this was inconsistent across the industry.

Jonathan Brearley, chief executive of Ofgem, said: “I want to thank suppliers for their efforts during this crisis in keeping essential energy supplies flowing to customers, particularly those in vulnerable situations.

“These permanent protections will reduce the number of prepayment customers temporarily going without energy because they cannot afford to top-up.

“It is always best for customers to keep up with their energy bills if they can. But at this time when many may face financial hardship, these proposals mean those who are struggling to keep up are assured of some breathing space.”

The proposals are subject to consultation but Ofgem said it hopes the measures would be in place by winter.

However, the proposals come just a week after Ofgem announced it would allow energy firms to re-start chasing debts and unpaid bills from 1 July.

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