The pressure on the Government and energy firms to ban the forced transfer of households to pre-payment meters (PPMs) is growing.
The scandal, revealed in the i paper, that energy firms have secured almost 500,000 court warrants to install these PPMs in homes of customers in debt, has led to debates and questions in the Houses of Parliament.
The House of Commons agreed to a motion put forward by Anne McLaughlin MP that:
That this House… is deeply concerned that so called self-disconnection of prepayment meter customers will see the most vulnerable in our society left without heat, light and facilities to cook and wash over the coming winter; and strongly urges the Government to outlaw self-disconnection to ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable customers are not left without basic energy provision.
Further questions from MPs across the political spectrum have challenged the legal process followed by energy firms and magistrates – with media reports likening the situation to the “Wild West.”
In response, OVO Energy has introduced a temporary ban on forcing people onto prepayment meters over Christmas – but insists the practice will resume in the new year.
The firm’s promise came in response to a demand from campaign group 38 Degrees, who recently wrote to all the UK’s major energy suppliers urging them to stop forcibly installing prepayment meters and remotely switching smart meters to prepayment mode without customer consent.
OVO also highlighted its suspension of debt recovery until at least March 2023 – meaning all customer top-ups will be used to pay for usage and standing charges only, not to pay off existing debts. But this will only be a temporary reprieve if debt collection restarts in the spring – when energy prices are once again set to rise.
Tens of thousands of people have now added their names to a 38 Degrees petition addressed to the CEOs of Britain’s major energy companies, demanding a total end to any switching without active, informed consumer consent.
People can add their name here: https://act.38degrees.org.uk/act/stop-forced-prepayment
Matthew McGregor, CEO at 38 Degrees, said:
By pledging not to push anyone into prepayment over the Christmas period, OVO is demonstrating they know just how damaging it is.
While it may be good news that struggling families won’t wake up to a prepayment meter on December 25th, they could still be facing disconnection by the backdoor come January.
If it’s not acceptable at Christmas time, why should this harmful practice be considered business as usual for the rest of the year?
Every single time these multi-billion pound companies push a prepayment meter onto someone who is struggling, they’re risking another customer facing the stark choice between feeding the meter and feeding their family.
But they have the chance to do the right thing: put people before profit by committing to end all forced transfer to prepayment.
The Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, said in response to a question in the House of Commons from Gerald Jones MP on Tuesday about to need for extra support for customers on the meters:
We will continue to monitor the situation over the months ahead because we are aware of the extreme vulnerabilities of this group.
But a spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, said the Government needed to go further:
Even the energy firms are now waking up to the reality that pre-payment meter customers are struggling in cold damp homes this winter.
Research for the Warm This Winter campaign has shown that PPM customers are likely to be vulnerable or have health conditions made worse by being unable to stay warm.
Many will have been forced onto a pre-payment meter against their will.
With MPs and charities increasingly concerned for the wellbeing of people in cold damp homes, we cannot leave their safety to chance.
The Government must act urgently to ban any further forced installations of pre-payment meters either by court warrant or by smart meter.