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Renewed call to ban forced energy meter installations as millions left in cold and dark

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

A watchdog is calling on the total ban of forced prepayment meter installations as more than three million users last year were left without gas and electricity as they couldn’t afford to top up.

One person every 10 seconds is cut off from their energy supply as the cost-of-living crisis continues to squeeze household finances.

According to charity and consumer watchdog for the energy market, Citizens Advice,  it saw more people who can’t top up their prepayment meter (PPM) last year than in the whole of the last decade combined.

It said for most of the 3.2 million cut off in 2022, it’s not just a “one-off”.

One in five who had been cut off said they spent at least 24 hours without gas or electricity, leaving them unable to heat their homes or cook a hot meal.

Vulnerable customers especially affected

The charity said it is particularly concerned about disabled people and those with long-term health conditions. Worryingly, 18% in this group who ran out of credit last year spent two or more days without an energy supply.

The energy regulator, Ofgem, has rules that means certain groups, such as disabled people and those with long-term health conditions, should not be forced onto a prepayment meter.

Citizens Advice previously raised concerns to Ofgem and the government that it had seen evidence of suppliers forcing people in these groups onto PPMs.

In October, Ofgem warned suppliers that not enough was being done to identify customers in vulnerable circumstances before installation.

However, in the month following this, the charity said more than a third of PPM households including a disabled person, or someone with a long-term health condition were cut off from their energy supply at least once. “That’s more than 470,000 struggling households left in the dark,” it said.

In one case, Rona, a disabled mum whose daughter has special needs, said she struggled to cope with rising bills and got into debt. Without warning, her supplier switched her smart meter to a PPM.

Rona said: “Over Christmas I went without energy because the credit ran out, and the Post Office was closed, so my daughter and I sat there cold, in the dark. How can I live like this?”

‘Total ban on forced prepayment meter installations’

Citizens Advice is now calling for a total ban on forced PPM installations until new protections are introduced, so households “can no longer be fully cut off from gas and electricity”.

It comes as it has seen a 229% increase in the past year in the number of people coming for help who can’t afford to top up.

Based on Ofgem figures, Citizens Advice estimates that 600,000 people were forced onto a PPM because they couldn’t afford their energy bills in 2022. And it predicts 160,000 more people could be moved onto a prepayment meter by the end of winter if no further action is taken.

Clare Moriarty, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “All too often the people finding it hardest to pay their bills are being forced onto a prepayment meter they can’t afford to top up. This puts them at real risk of being left in cold, damp and dark homes.

“The staggering rise in the cost of living means many simply cannot afford to heat and power their homes to safe levels.

“New protections are needed to stop people being fully cut off from gas and electricity. Until then, there must be a total ban on energy companies forcing those already at breaking point onto prepayment meters. If Ofgem doesn’t act, the government must intervene.”