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Energy suppliers agree to end forced meter installations

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The UK government said today that all energy companies had agreed to end forced installation of prepayment meters in the homes of vulnerable customers. But officials called for a tougher stance on suppliers.

Earlier this month, the energy regulator Ofgem began an investigation following news reports that agents working on behalf of British Gas had broken into customers’ homes to fit prepayment meters against their will.

Chris O’Shea, chief executive of Centrica, which owns British Gas, then said that such installations would be suspended “until at least the end of the winter.” 

On Monday, Energy Security Secretary Grant Shapps told energy firms to report back to him on what remedial action – such as providing compensation – they would take in cases where they had wrongfully installed prepayment meters.

All suppliers to end forced installation

Today the government announced that all suppliers met the deadline and vowed to end the practice.

But while several of them explained how they planned to help affected customers – such as replacing the prepayment meter with a credit meter – the government said that some companies “failed to address the question.”

Shapps said: “People will have understandably been shocked and appalled at how vulnerable people’s homes have been invaded and prepayment meters installed against their wishes – and suppliers are only at the beginning of correcting this abhorrent behaviour.”

“All suppliers are now halting forced installations, magistrates are no longer signing off warrant applications and Ofgem are upping their game when it comes to their reviews,” he said.

Further steps needed

But more still needed to be done, the energy chief said: “I am angered by the fact some have so freely moved vulnerable customers onto prepayment meters, without a proper plan to take remedial action where there has been a breach of the rules. So, I have only received half the picture as it still doesn’t include enough action to offer redress to those who have been so appallingly treated.”

He called on Ofgem to “toughen up” on energy suppliers and to create a new system for customers to send in their own stories rather than relying on energy bosses to share details. The regulator said it would engage more with charities and other consumer groups.

Charity group has also called for redress for those who have already been affected.

Adam Scorer, chief executive of fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA) says: “The Secretary of State is right to push for urgent action to protect vulnerable consumers. An immediate halt to forced installation of prepayment meters must be followed quickly with clarity on how many vulnerable households shouldn’t have had these meters installed, a suitable compensation package imposed by Ofgem, and then a full review of the prepayment market to see whether or not it can work for consumers and not just for suppliers.”