Three energy firms permitted to return to forcible prepayment meter installation
EDF, Octopus and Scottish Power have been given permission to return to forcibly fitting prepayment meters (PPMs) after they were temporarily banned following a outcry around the practice.
Ofgem said the three firms had met its set of conditions, which include conducting internal audits to identify PPMs wrongfully installed before the February 2023 moratorium and offering compensation and a return to a non-prepayment payment method to any affected customers.
Once suppliers meet the conditions and restart “involuntary” PPM installations, they must also provide regular monitoring data to Ofgem to identify any concerning practices.
Customers and consumer groups will be able to check energy suppliers that can install prepayment meters without a household’s permission on the Ofgem website.
EDF, Octopus and Scottish Power will still have to make at least 10 attempts to contact a customer before a prepayment meter is installed and carry out a site welfare visit before proceeding.
They are not allowed to forcibly fit a PPM if the household is considered to include “highest risk” customers, including those which require a continuous energy supply for health reasons, have an older occupant aged 75 and over without support, or those with children under two years old.
A code of practice governing the installation of prepayment meters, which all energy companies signed up to last April, was put in place after an investigation by The Times revealed evidence of bad behaviour by suppliers severely affecting struggling customers.
Ofgem said it had reminded energy chief executives of their responsibility to treat customers fairly when installing “involuntary” PPMs, and that they must follow the new rules or face tough action and fines.
Ofgem’s director general for markets, Tim Jarvis, said: “Protecting consumers is our number one priority.
“We’ve made clear that suppliers must exhaust all other options before considering forced installation of a prepayment meter, and consumers can help themselves by reaching out to their supplier as soon as possible if they think they won’t be able to pay their bill, so payment options can be discussed.
“Our rules on when, and how, a prepayment meter can be installed are clear and we won’t hesitate to take action if suppliers act irresponsibly.
“While nobody wants to see the practices uncovered last year repeated, we also know that allowing households to build up unsustainable amounts of debt isn’t the right thing to do either.
“Many households value the control that these pay-as-you-go meters offer over bills and how they can help with budgeting, and suppliers must also be able to recover debt to make sure those costs don’t end up on everyone else’s bills.”
He added: “We will continue to work closely with consumer groups and suppliers to make sure households understand their rights when it comes to prepayment meters, and will regularly review our rules to make sure they are working to protect the most vulnerable.
“I’d also strongly encourage consumers to make sure their personal details and circumstances are up to date with their supplier, so they can be taken into consideration if or when payment problems arise.”
Simon Francis, co-ordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, said: “It is outrageous that energy firms are seeking to use the courts to force people on to prepayment meters in the middle of winter.
“These meters have the potential to leave them without heating in the middle of winter.
“We still have grave concerns about the processes energy firms have in place for assessing vulnerabilities. Late last year, Scottish Power were found to be trying to seek warrants to force vulnerable households on to prepayment meters.
“Ultimately, without a change in the law, we knew this day would come.
“MPs and ministers – who ignored pleas to introduce a full ban – can only hope that it is not their vulnerable constituents who are forced on to these meters.
“If anyone receives a court summons from their energy firm they must contact Citizens Advice, a local law centre or other advice provider as soon as possible to see if help is available to them.
“Customers should not ignore these letters as the consequences of doing nothing could be severe.”
Jonathan Bean, from Fuel Poverty Action, said: “We are horrified that Ofgem has taken the cruel and dangerous decision to allow Scottish Power and others to break into homes and limit energy supplies in the middle of winter.
“This will leave many people traumatised and cold.”
Bethan Sayed from Climate Cymru said: “It is unacceptable that energy firms are seeking to use the courts to force people onto prepayment meters when the weather is getting increasingly bitter and cold.
“These meters have the potential to leave people without heating at the peak of winter. Late last year, Scottish Power was seeking warrants to force vulnerable households onto prepayment meters.
“How is it that Ofgem believes these issues have been resolved in a matter of weeks? We need a total reform of the energy system, and we need MPs and MSs to take action”
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