The devastating impact of forced transfer of households onto more expensive Pre-Payment Meters (PPMs) has led the End Fuel Poverty Coalition to call for an immediate ban on their imposition.
Energy firms’ licence conditions protect many vulnerable people from formal disconnection over the winter, however evidence from End Fuel Poverty Coalition members shows that customers in debt who are forced onto a PPM by their supplier will often “self-disconnect” and stop using energy.
Reports have established that energy suppliers are now using PPMs more often as a method of revenue protection. This includes:
- Using court warrants – where campaigners believe magistrates courts may be “rubber stamping” warrants to install meters. Freedom of information requests revealed 187,000 such applications were made in the first six months of 2022 so it is difficult to believe these are approved on a case-by-case basis.
- Inappropriately switching smart meters from credit to prepayment mode, thereby forcibly installing PPMs remotely.
- Failing to follow due process, including assessing households for vulnerabilities, ensuring it is safe to install a PPM and ensuring customers receive the required warnings of the impending change.
Ofgem recognised that this is a breach of licence conditions and wrote to energy firms urging them to stop this practice. However, anecdotal evidence from End Fuel Poverty Coalition members suggests this continues to occur where it is not appropriate to do so.
The End Fuel Poverty Coalition now advises any customers to check all messages from energy firms and if they are contacted about a pre-payment meter installation to contact the Good Law Project who are looking to challenge these transfers.
The Coalition has called on the Government and Ofgem to:
- Ban switching customers to a prepayment meter under warrant and ban switching smart meters to PPM mode without active, informed, consumer consent.
- With rising levels of arrears and self-disconnections further support should be provided from Government and suppliers in the form of payment matching and debt write-off schemes.
- Ensure that the combination of the price cap and Energy Price Guarantee eliminates the premium that PPM users pay for their energy.
- Remind magistrates of their duty to consider warrant applications on their individual merits and end the batch approval of warrants for PPM as is currently taking place.
Jan Shortt, General Secretary of National Pensioners Convention, said:
Customers have an opportunity to discuss with their energy company the best way to resolve any debt. To override this option is in breach of the protocol for energy companies.
Customers must be the first to know not the last and must be protected from such unscrupulous energy companies. We have written to Ofgem to urge the Regulator to immediately intervene to ensure this is so.
Where customers do not see pre-payment as the right option for them, they must immediately be returned to their original smart meter plan.
Ruth London of Fuel Poverty Action said:
Imposition of a pre-payment meter is disconnection by the back door. When you can’t top up the meter everything clicks off, regardless of whether you are old, ill, or have a newborn baby.
Now smart meters are being used to cut people off supply by imposing pre-payment remotely. We were all encouraged to get smart meters and told they would help us save money. Some people always suspected they would be used for illegal disconnections. They have been proved right.
Pre-payment should be a voluntary option. Imposing it is violent, and in the present situation it is likely to swell the numbers of excess winter deaths.
Joe Cole, CEO, Advice for Renters, commented:
One of our clients who suffers from PTSD was switched from his smart meter to pre-payment without notice and came close to suicide before the energy company were alerted by us and put his account back into credit.
Jo Maugham Executive Director, Good Law Project, said:
Utility companies are repeatedly failing their supplier obligations and the customer safeguards that are in place, and are applying to the already overstretched courts for 10,000s of warrants a month to force their way into people’s homes to fit pre-payment meters. This puts people at risk of self-disconnecting and the health risks of cold, dark, damp homes. This is unacceptable and we are exploring legal routes to put a stop to it.
A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition added:
Self-disconnection is as dangerous as disconnection by any other means and energy firms need to be alert to the pain they are causing consumers by switching them to pre-payment meters without their active and informed consent.
If people don’t keep their homes warm, they are at risk from the severe health complications of living in a cold damp home and those who are elderly, disabled or have pre-existing medical conditions are especially vulnerable this winter.
All sources and detail available at https://www.endfuelpoverty.org.uk/about-fuel-poverty/forced-pre-payment-meter-transfer/
Customers can contact the Good Law Project by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org