Commons Committee asked to take urgent evidence on forced PPMs

The House of Commons Energy Security Committee has been asked by campaigners to hold an urgent evidence session on the prepayment meters scandal.

Last week Scottish Power was granted 124 warrants by Berkshire Magistrates Court to forcibly enter people’s homes to force them onto prepayment meters (PPMs). 

According to media reports, the magistrate granted all 124 warrants after examining just 20 of them in detail.

One of these warrants was granted against a property in Grimsby, almost 200 miles away.

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition has now written to the Committee outlining more than ten serious concerns about this decision and requesting its help in understanding the circumstances around the warrants. 

The group has asked the Committee to take evidence within the next 28 days from Scottish Power, Richburns Ltd (debt collection agency), His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service and Ofgem.

The forced PPMs scandal rocked the energy industry after investigations by the i paper and The Times revealed the extent energy firms were using the courts to gain warrants to people’s homes to force vulnerable people onto PPMs. 

Expert reports highlight the health dangers potentially caused by people’s PPMs switching off and leaving them in cold damp homes.

These warrants were granted despite a ban on the forced transfer of homes onto prepayment meters still being in place. 

Campaigners have previously written to Ministers to call for a Help To Repay scheme to be introduced to remove the need for forced prepayment meter transfers.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, commented:

“It is totally inappropriate for energy firms to be seeking to force their way into people’s homes to push them onto dangerous prepayment meters in this way. This strategy leaves potentially vulnerable customers at risk of disconnection and going without energy.

“Instead, we need Government and industry to agree to a Help To Repay scheme which will help bring down the astronomical levels of energy debt and help households struggling with the cost of living crisis to get back on an even keel.”

National Pensioners Convention General Secretary Jan Shortt said: 

“It is interesting that Scottish Power had warrants passed before 8 November, when Ofgem’s mandatory regulations covering energy providers are due to come into force.

“We oppose magistrates signing warrants for forced entry in bulk. Magistrates have the overriding power when it comes to human rights, and we expect that they will take genuine steps to ensure that every application for a warrant to force entry to fit a prepayment meter will be vigorously scrutinised to ensure adherence to the Ofgem Code of Practice.  

“We recognise this will cause delays, but the alternative is to breach individual human rights and cause distress to those struggling with paying bills.

“We would prefer to see an end to the use of prepayment meters with an agreed strategy to transfer those customers who do not want them back to a payment scheme that enables them to be debt free.”

Frazer Scott, CEO, Energy Action Scotland commented:

“People are struggling with unaffordable energy costs and spiralling debt. This has reached record levels. Some of the most vulnerable in society have not seen the right levels of support to ensure that their health and wellbeing is protected. 

“The forced movement of people from credit to prepayment places an unacceptable level of risk to the lives of people. Government, regulator, suppliers and our courts are failing to provide meaningful protection. 

“We are dismayed that action has been taken by suppliers and the courts ahead of the introduction of changes to regulations which should ensure that no vulnerable person has to endure being subject to a forced installation.” 

Warm This Winter spokesperson, Fiona Waters said: 

“It’s appalling that Scottish Power have been granted warrants to force their way into over a hundred homes, install prepayment meters and leave vulnerable people with just £30 credit. Prepayment meter users often have to clear debt before they can top them up. We hope Ofgem and the Energy Security Committee will exert all their authority to stop this and not condemn these customers to living without any heating or lighting.”

Jonathan Bean of Fuel Poverty Action added: 

“Scottish Powers’ plan to break into homes, and risk leaving people unable to stay warm this winter, has been exposed. The courts are failing to properly assess most cases, and Ofgem is guilty of wishful thinking. Government must act now to end this inhumane and dangerous practice.”

The full letter is available to read as a pdf.