Ofgem allows energy firms to force fit prepayment meters

Ofgem has given the green light to energy firms to resume force-fitting prepayment meters in people’s homes.

The practice was suspended in early 2023 after investigations by the i and the Times newspapers.

EDF, Octopus and Scottish Power can now install the meters again after meeting new rules set by Ofgem, the industry regulator.

However, a spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, commented:

“It is outrageous that energy firms are seeking to use the courts to force people onto prepayment meters in the middle of winter. These meters have the potential to leave them without heating in the middle of winter.

“We still have grave concerns about the processes energy firms have in place for assessing vulnerabilities. Late last year, Scottish Power were found to be trying to seek warrants to force vulnerable households onto prepayment meters.

“Ultimately, without a change in the law, we knew this day would come. MPs and Ministers – who ignored pleas to introduce a full ban – can only hope that it is not their vulnerable constituents who are forced onto these meters.

“If anyone receives a court summons from their energy firm they must contact Citizens Advice, a local law centre or other advice provider as soon as possible to see if help is available to them. Customers should not ignore these letters as the consequences of doing nothing could be severe.”

Jonathan Bean from Fuel Poverty Action added:

“We are horrified that Ofgem has taken the cruel and dangerous decision to allow Scottish Power and others to break into homes and limit energy supplies in the middle of winter. This will leave many people traumatised and cold.”

National Pensioners Convention General Secretary, Jan Shortt said:

“While we understand that energy debt needs to be dealt with, force fitting Prepayment Meters through the courts is a draconian measure the NPC would very much like to see abandoned.  We will be monitoring very closely any efforts to apply warrants granted.

“There are many reasons for energy debt – not least the doubling of costs last year and the cost-of-living crisis making it very difficult for the majority of ordinary people and pensioners to eke out their income to pay ever-increasing bills.

“We urge the Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero to engage with the energy providers, the Regulator of Ofgem, the NPC and the End Fuel Poverty Coalition to debate and consider a plan to enable those in debt to be able to make payments according to their ability, not the energy providers to top-load plans.

“We would also welcome some understanding from energy providers in terms of customer responses to their communications on debt.  Firstly, they should understand that for most older people, there is no spare money, and they are not members of the ‘won’t pay’ brigade.  The overt assumption that everyone in debt is deliberately not paying is erroneous, spiteful and completely unnecessary.

“Secondly, the energy providers need to rebuild trust between themselves and their customers as a result of those choosing to work outside of their moral obligations.”

Before suppliers can restart involuntary installations, they must meet the conditions set out by Ofgem. These include:

  • Suppliers must conduct an internal audit to identify wrongfully installed involuntary PPMs installed before the PPM moratorium (in place from February 2023) and offer compensation and a return to a non-prepayment payment method to any affected customers.
  • The supplier must commission and conclude an independent assessment to verify their readiness to comply with the new rules.
  • The suppliers’ Board must attest that the supplier is ready to restart involuntary PPMs in compliance with the Code, and pay redress to customers of wrongly installed PPMs
  • If the PPM Market Compliance Review finds major concerns, the supplier in question will need to take corrective agreed with Ofgem

A statement by Ofgem added that once suppliers meet the above conditions and restart involuntary PPM installations, they must also provide regular monitoring data to the regulator, so that concerning practices can be identified early.

Customers and consumer groups will be able to check energy suppliers that can install prepayment meters without household permission on the Ofgem website.

While EDF, Octopus and Scottish Power can now proceed with considering involuntary PPM installations as a last resort, they will still be required to follow a robust set of rules put in place by Ofgem. These rules include:

  • Making at least 10 attempts to contact a customer before a prepayment meter is installed
  • Carrying out a site welfare visit before a prepayment meter is installed
  • Refrain from all involuntary installations for the highest risk customers (the ‘do not install’ category) including:
  • Households which require a continuous supply for health reasons, including dependence on powered medical equipment,
  • Households with an older occupant (aged 75+), without support in the house,
  • Households with children aged under 2 years old,
  • Households with residents with severe health issues including terminal illnesses or those with a medical dependency on a warm home (for example due to illness such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis, sickle cell disease).
  • Suppliers must also assess the suitability of a PPM when one of the below disabilities/characteristics/conditions is a factor:
  • Children 5 and under,
  • Other serious medical/Health Conditions (such as neurological diseases (Parkinson’s, Huntingdon’s, Cerebral Palsy), respiratory conditions (COPD) and mobility limiting conditions (Osteoporosis, Muscular Dystrophy, Multiple Sclerosis)),
  • Serious mental/developmental health conditions (such as clinical depression, Alzheimer’s, dementia, learning difficulties, Schizophrenia),
  • Temporary situations (such as pregnancy, bereavement)