3.2m pre-payment meter customers left without heat

New research has found that one person every 10 seconds ran out of credit on their pre-payment meter last year because they couldn’t afford to top up.

The findings put more pressure on the Government to act on the pre-payment meters scandal as a total of 3.2 million people across Great Britain were left without heat or light according to Citizens Advice.

In debates in Parliament this week, the energy and justice ministers were put under pressure on the issue of forced transfer of homes onto pre-payment meters. Caroline Lucas MP and Rachael Maskell MP both raised the issue in debates, while a Bill to ban the practice has been put forward by Anne McLaughlin MP.

Previous research for the Warm This Winter campaign found that a third of pre-payment meter customers are now living in a cold damp home.

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

But Citizens Advice data reveals that in the month following Ofgem’s intervention more than more than 470,000 struggling households including a disabled person, or someone with a long term health-condition, were cut off from their energy supply at least once.

Citizens Advice also found that more than one in five (19%) prepayment meter customers were cut off in the past year then spent at least 24 hours without gas or electricity, leaving them unable to turn the heating on or cook a hot meal.

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition has been calling for a ban on the forced transfer of homes on to pre-payment meters. A spokesperson for the Coalition commented:

The staggering extent of the prepayment meters scandal is now clear. Energy firms and the Government should hang their heads in shame.

Magistrates who approved court warrants in bulk for energy firms to install prepayment meters should also reflect on their role in this injustice.

A full ban on the forced transfer of customers to prepayment meters, including via smart meter mode switching, is now the only acceptable course of action.

Citizens Advice has now joined the calls for a total ban on forced prepayment meter installations until new protections are introduced, ensuring households can no longer be fully cut off from gas and electricity.

The charity reports 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 their prepayment meter.