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Fuel-poverty group calls for ban on enforced pre-payment energy meters

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The End Fuel Poverty Coalition cited reports that said energy suppliers were moving more households onto more expensive pre-payment meters (PPMs) more often as a way to protect their own revenue and that magistrates’ courts could be ‘rubber stamping’ their approval.

The coalition a group of more than 60 anti-poverty, environmental and health campaigners, local authorities, trade unions and consumer organisations called for an immediate ban on imposing PPMs on customers.

While licence conditions mean that energy providers aren’t allowed to disconnect vulnerable people during winter months, the coalition said customers in debt who are forced onto a PPM by their supplier often “self-disconnect”, meaning they just stop using gas or electricity, putting their health and safety in danger.

The coalition said freedom of information requests uncovered 187,000 cases in which magistrates courts approved warrants to install meters in the first six months of this year. The group said it found it unbelievable that the courts took the time to evaluate each case on its own merits.

 The organization also said it opposed the inappropriate switching of smart meters from credit to prepayment mode, which is said was tantamount to installing PPMs remotely.

Contact lawyers if forced to install a PPM

The coalition said it had asked the Government and Ofgem to bar companies from switching customers to a prepayment meter under warrant and to ban switching smart meters to PPM mode without active, informed, consumer consent.

It also called for the agencies to make sure that the combination of the price cap and Energy Price Guarantee eliminates the premium charged to users or pre-payment meters.

 The End Fuel Poverty Coalition said it advises any customers to check all messages from energy firms and if they are contacted about a pre-payment meter installation to contact the Good Law Project for help fighting such transfers.

Jan Shortt, general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, said that energy customers who don’t see pre-payment as the right option for them, “must immediately be returned to their original smart meter plan”.

Ruth London, of Fuel Poverty Action, said “smart meters are being used to cut people off supply by imposing pre-payment remotely. We were all encouraged to get smart meters and told they would help us save money. Some people always suspected they would be used for illegal disconnections. They have been proved right. Pre-payment should be a voluntary option.”

The suppliers view on PPMs

One supplier, British Gas, has been quoted as saying that pre-paid meters are “a way of keeping a customer’s energy supply running when they are in debt and have not contacted us about their bills”.

A spokesman for Energy UK, the trade association for the energy industry, was quoted as saying: “Suppliers are required to have exhausted all other options and followed a series of checks before installing a prepayment meter by warrant. Pre-payment meters have been a way of helping customers monitor and budget for their energy usage but suppliers are very aware of the challenges millions of customers are facing right now.

“There are difficult decisions around indebted customers as suppliers are also required to try and prevent them falling further into arrears, given that any increase in bad debt will ultimately have to be recouped from customers’ bills.”