Save, make, understand money

Household Bills

Forced prepayment meter installations paused for six weeks

Samantha Partington
Written By:
Samantha Partington

Energy regulator Ofgem confirmed that suppliers have agreed to halt forced prepayment meter installations until 31 March, as it looks to clarify rules and guidance around this area.

Earlier this month, Ofgem wrote to suppliers asking them to stop forced installations and remote smart meter transfers to prepayment meters.

Suppliers agreed to stop installation by warrant, remote mode switches without the explicit agreement from the customer, and ceasing new applications to court for installation warrants, unless theft is suspected.

It came after an investigation by The Times alleged that a third party used by British Gas forcibly broke into the homes of vulnerable customers to install prepayment meters.

Ofgem called the allegations ‘extremely serious’ and enforced a temporary ban, adding it would launch an urgent investigation into British Gas as well as a market-wide review of the rapid increase in the installation of prepayment meters.

It added “it is unacceptable for any supplier to impose forced installations on vulnerable customers struggling to pay their bills before all other options have been exhausted”.

Ban enforced for only six weeks

However, a letter to suppliers this week confirmed the ban will only be in place for another six weeks.

During this time, Ofgem will consult with suppliers, consumer groups and charities to review how the rules and guidance on the use of prepayment meters by suppliers apply “in the current exceptional circumstances” as well as whether these rules and guidance “should be amended going forward”.

It said its market review had found issues across the sector and it was challenging all companies to make improvements to deliver better customer outcomes, adding “suppliers need to do better”. 

Ofgem also noted that some suppliers had raised concerns about the impact a change in the installation practice would have on their business.

It wrote: “Some suppliers have expressed concerns on the levels of customer debt caused by a halt to warrant prepayment meter installation and forced remote switch of smart meters to prepayment mode. If this debt cannot be recovered from some customers, then this increases costs for suppliers.

“We are aware of the difficult balance here as unrecoverable debts from some customers may then be recovered from the bills of paying customers, many of who are themselves struggling with paying their bills, given the wider affordability issue. We have an ongoing programme of work to assess costs to suppliers from customer debt.”

Ofgem said it would publish a timeline for its prepayment meter warrant installations and remote mode
switching review on 21 February, adding that 31 March is when the new rules will be ready pending its detailed investigation.