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Energy companies halt forced installation of prepayment meters

ENERGY suppliers agree to stop forcing vulnerable households onto prepayment meters following calls from the Energy Secretary

Following Energy Security Secretary Grant Shapps’ intervention, all energy suppliers have now committed to ending the forced installation of prepayment meters in vulnerable customers’ homes.

After concerns were raised about the sharp rise in companies seeking warrants to enter people’s homes to forcibly install prepayment meters, Mr Shapps wrote to energy bosses insisting they revise their practices and improve their action to support vulnerable households, to make sure prepayment meters being installed is a genuine last resort. As part of this, he asked all suppliers to set out what they are doing to support their customers, how many warrants they have each sought, and plans to redress any wrongdoing.

It follows the Energy Security Secretary launching a crackdown on the mistreatment of customers last month, where he charged the Energy Minister with meeting suppliers to explain their actions and called on magistrates to improve their scrutiny of the warrants crossing their desk. Just this week, Lord Justice Edis issued directions to magistrates courts to stop approving warrants to force-fit prepayment meters grinding the practice to a firm halt.

However, given the failure of the energy regulator to identify recent unacceptable behaviour such as that of British Gas – or other significant shortcomings – he told Ofgem to improve their oversight of these companies and toughen up on suppliers. Now in line with the Energy Security Secretary’s request, Ofgem has committed to speaking to consumers rather than just suppliers about their experiences.

This week the Energy Security Secretary set suppliers a deadline to urgently report back on remedial action for customers who faced wrongful installations.

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All suppliers responded by the Energy Security Secretary’s deadline, committing to end the practice which breaches rules in place to protect vulnerable households, and setting out their plans for identifying those that may have had meters wrongfully installed. However, while several set out redress that would be provided to customers in this instance – such as providing compensation, or replacement of a prepayment meter with a credit meter – a number failed to address the question.

The Energy Security Secretary has therefore found most suppliers are falling short on correcting their ways and said halting forced installation is “only the beginning” of fixing the “abhorrent” practice of forcibly fitting prepayment meters into vulnerable customers’ homes.

He said he will continue to stand up for vulnerable consumers who have had their homes invaded, and to ensure that this cannot happen in future. However, he is still pushing suppliers to make good on failures and was angered letters back to him only offered ‘half the picture’ as details on how they’ll fix wrongdoings were missing from several replies.

Energy Security Secretary Grant Shapps said: “People will have understandably been shocked and appalled at how vulnerable people’s homes have been invaded and prepayment meters installed against their wishes – and suppliers are only at the beginning of correcting this abhorrent behaviour.

“Since those reports were published, I have demanded answers from suppliers, and Ofgem: all suppliers are now halting forced installations, magistrates are no longer signing off warrant applications and Ofgem are upping their game when it comes to their reviews.

“But I am angered by the fact some have so freely moved vulnerable customers onto prepayment meters, without a proper plan to take remedial action where there has been a breach of the rules. So, I have only received half the picture as it still doesn’t include enough action to offer redress to those who have been so appallingly treated.

“This is simply not good enough and absolutely needs to be addressed by Ofgem’s review – I want to see plans from suppliers actually acted upon – and customers given the service they have a right to expect.”

Following the Times investigation, British Gas boss Chris O’Shea was asked to meet the Energy Minister and told to take urgent steps to repair the damage done to their reputation and urgently outline the role he will personally take to fix these cultural issues.

He was also told that vulnerable, mistreated customers need to be identified and redress provided, with the Energy Security Secretary monitoring matters extremely closely to make sure this happens.

Mr Shapps is today sharing the responses with energy regulator, Ofgem, who are currently carrying out a review into the use of prepayment meters – telling them that what he has seen so far simply isn’t good enough.

He’s called on them to set up a new customer reporting system for households to pass on their own stories of how they are being treated – especially those who are vulnerable – and not just rely on energy firm bosses to share information. The regulator has confirmed they will look at doing this such as engaging more with charities and other groups that represent consumers.

Mr Shapps said he will be keeping a watchful eye on the activities of suppliers to make sure this doesn’t happen again – starting with Ofgem changing the way they conduct their reviews so they never again have the wool pulled over their eyes.

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