Energy firms have signed up to a new code of conduct to govern the forced installation of prepayment meters.
The code has been described by Ofgem as a “new voluntary code of practice [which] is a minimum standard that clearly sets out steps all suppliers must take before moving to a PPM which will place a voluntary ban on forcibly installing prepayment meters in the homes of customers over 85 and will make representatives wear body cameras as part of a new code of conduct.”
However, a spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, commented:
“This code of practice simply does not go far enough and the fact it is voluntary undermines its objective.
“There are really vulnerable groups which have been omitted from its full protection and we have serious concerns about how it will be implemented, such as how people will prove their medical conditions without being humiliated by an energy firm health inspection.
“The plans also fail to deal with the elephant in the room – the growing household energy debt mountain. According to figures from the Warm This Winter campaign 29% of the population is in debt to their energy firm.
“This was the Government’s opportunity to take meaningful action and introduce targeted debt relief for those most in need. It has failed to do so and seems to have given in to energy industry demands to let them go back to the bad old days of forcing prepayment meters onto customers in distress.”
Rachael Williamson, head of policy and external affairs at Chartered Institute of Housing responded to the announcement, commenting:
“This new code of practice is an important step forward in ensuring that some of the most vulnerable residents cannot have a prepayment meter installed in their home against their will. CIH welcome the code and Ofgem’s parallel focus on tighter enforcement and oversight, but we would like to see it go further and forbid forced installations in the homes of all vulnerable residents, not just those defined in the code as high risk.
“This is especially important for renters, who are more likely to be financially vulnerable or living with a cold-related illness, and who have borne the brunt of the cost of living crisis. We now need to see these changes incorporated into suppliers’ license conditions as soon as possible.”
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said:
“It’s good to see some regulation coming in to begin to rein in the practice of forcibly installing pre-payment meters (PPMs), which has previously been something of a Wild West, but these new rules do not go far enough.
“We don’t think any older person should be subjected to this treatment, not only the over-85s and the over-75s who are deemed vulnerable in some way, partly as a matter of principle but also because of concerns about how effective the assessment of vulnerability will be. The risk is that some older people – and younger people too – who should definitely not be on a PPM end up on one.
“Today marks an important first step but ultimately the sooner the practice of forcibly installing PPMs ends the better. In the meantime PPMs should only ever be used as a last resort.”
The Centre for Sustainable Energy also agreed that the moves do not go far enough, writing in a blog post:
“CSE advisors are hearing from more and more people in absolutely desperate circumstances every day. Keeping healthily warm is a basic human right and it’s wrong that so many people are struggling with cold homes and seriously worried about money.
“We urgently need a long term plan to fix our broken energy system. We need targeted support for people on low incomes. We need a strategy to improve homes so they so they don’t leak heat.”