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Energy suppliers told to pause forced prepay meter installations

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

The energy regulator has asked suppliers to pause forced prepayment meter installations in the wake of “worrying” allegations of agents breaking into vulnerable people’s homes to fit them.

CEO of Ofgem, Jonathan Brearley, has asked all suppliers to review their activities regarding prepayment, or pay-as-you-go warrants.

He has also asked them to pause forced installations and look at their relationships with any third-party contractors to see if they exhibit poor or unacceptable behaviour.

It comes after Ofgem launched an urgent investigation of British Gas following claims in The Times that agents broke into the homes of vulnerable customers to fit the prepay meters.

British Gas suspended PPM installations “until at least the end of the winter” off the back of these claims, and this was followed by EDF last night.

However, Brearley said: “I’ve warned all domestic energy suppliers to get their house in order on forced instalments of prepayment meters.

“Suppliers need to reassure us that the processes for customers being moved onto PPMs are compliant with all Ofgem rules and, until this is done, we have asked them to pause forced installations. Many have already come forward and agreed to do this until their boards are satisfied vulnerable customers are protected.”

Protect the vulnerable

He added that “no energy CEO can shirk their legal and moral responsibilities to protect their own customers, especially the most vulnerable”.

Brearley said: “It is astonishing for any supplier not to know about their own contractors’ behaviour, especially where they are interacting with the most vulnerable in our society.

“We will not allow suppliers to take risks with vulnerable, elderly or sick customers, many of whom could be at serious risk without power.

“The energy crisis has left millions of people struggling to pay their energy bills. As I have said before, we need a serious assessment of a social tariff or any other alternative to help the most vulnerable households. It could help tackle the root cause of affordability which we’ve seen is causing distress to many vulnerable households this winter. We stand ready to work with Government and stakeholders to tackle this issue.”

Sly switch tactics

Energy companies were already under fire for their ‘backdoor tactics’ in installing prepayment meters both physically and remotely via smart energy meters without the billpayer’s knowledge even before the British Gas controversy.

Energy debt has soared to £2.5bn at the start of the year, the highest level seen in over a decade and while households struggle to pay their bills, suppliers are looking to recover the debt.

Just last week, Ofgem opened a review of energy firms’ “checks and balances” when it comes to forced prepayment meter installations, where it threatened to take legal action if they’re found not to have taken “due care”.

Brearley added: “I ordered our biggest ever market review into prepayment meters to uncover poor practice – and I will not hesitate to take the strongest action in our powers where needed.”