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Saturday, February 24, 2024

Crackdown on forced prepayment meters ordered by government

Prepayment meter with a warning of budget being exceededGetty Images

The government has demanded that energy suppliers stop forcing vulnerable households on to prepayment meters.

Business Secretary Grant Shapps’ announcement comes after calls for a ban on the practice from charities including Citizens Advice.

Increasing numbers of people are being left without heat or light when they are unable to afford meter top-ups.

He added that he would “name and shame” those suppliers “doing nowhere near enough” for vulnerable customers.

“This action is part of a drive to increase transparency around prepayment meter installations,” Mr Shapps wrote in a letter to energy suppliers.

Energy firms should first make greater efforts to help those struggling to pay their bills, such as offering credit or debt advice, Mr Shapps told them.

Citizens Advice has said forcibly switching people should be banned, adding it had seen a big rise in clients needing crisis support, like an emergency grant.

Head of energy policy, Gillian Cooper, welcomed the announcement, saying: “Millions of people are being left in cold, dark and damp homes because they can’t afford to top up their meter. No one should be forced to live like this.”

She said if suppliers did not co-operate, the government must step in with “stronger action”. She also called for “further protections” for those already using prepayment meters.

British Gas has already announced that it will stop switching people onto prepayment meters via their smart meters when they struggle to pay their bills.

  • British Gas to stop remote switches to prepayment meters
  • ‘I was forced on to a prepayment meter’

Audrey Ridson, 81, was switched to one even though she could not walk to the shop to top up her energy card.

Audrey Risdon

Audrey from Hampshire was in hospital recovering from a fall when her energy firm switched her to a prepayment account – even though her daughter-in-law warned her supplier that Audrey would struggle to get to the shops to make a payment to top up her meter.

But the government will stop short of an outright ban due to concerns over a subsequent increase in bailiff action.

Mr Shapps wrote: “Suppliers are clearly jumping the gun and moving at-risk customers on to prepayment meters before offering them the support they are entitled to.”

He wanted suppliers to “lend a more sympathetic ear” to those struggling amidst rising costs of living.

“I am deeply concerned to see reports of customers being switched to prepayment meters against their will, with some disconnected from supply – and quite literally left in the dark”, he added.

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