Calls for UK ban on prepayment meter installations under court warrants | Fuel poverty

Activists have called for an immediate ban on prepayment meter (PPM) installations carried out under court orders, fearing that energy providers could use them to disconnect the poorest and most indebted customers “through the back door”.

Energy company licensing terms protect many vulnerable people from formal disconnection during the winter, but the End Fuel Poverty Coalition said shifting households to MPCs, which require regular refills and energy charges higher, often prompted people in debt to “self-disconnect”.

The body, which represents 60 organizations made up of poverty charities, health campaigners, local authorities, trade unions and consumer organisations, said 20,000 households a month are currently being transferred towards PPMs as energy companies seek to protect their revenues.

For cash-strapped households, switching from a credit meter to a PPM can mean the difference between having heating or not, as they suddenly find themselves having to prepay for energy with cash that they don’t. ‘they do not have.

Earlier this month, Citizens Advice warned that it had seen more people unable to recharge their prepaid meter in the first nine months of 2022 than in the previous three years combined.

The coalition is concerned that the magistrates’ courts have “rubber stamped” warrants to install PPM, noting that freedom of information requests have revealed that 187,000 requests have been filed over the past few months. first six months of 2022, making it “hard to believe” they were approved on a case – on a case-by-case basis.

Energy providers remotely switched smart meters from credit mode to prepayment mode and did not follow due process, including assessing household vulnerabilities to ensure it was safe to use. install a PPM, the coalition said.

The industry has denied this, but more than 152,000 households with smart meters were remotely switched to more expensive PPM plans by their energy supplier last year, according to recent figures from Ofgem, with 60,000 households switched over in the last three months alone.

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition advises customers who are contacted by their energy supplier about a PPM installation to speak to the Good Law Project, which is seeking to challenge the transfers.

He called on the government and Ofgem to ban customers switching to a mandated PPM without “consumer’s active and informed consent”.

Ruth London of Fuel Poverty Action said: “Imposing a prepayment meter is a back door disconnect. When you can’t top up the meter, everything stops, whether you’re old, sick, or have a newborn.

“Prepayment should be a voluntary option. To impose it is violent and, in the current situation, it is likely to inflate the number of excessive winter deaths.

Jo Maugham, executive director of the Good Law Project, said: “Utility companies are repeatedly breaching their supplier obligations and the customer safeguards that are in place, and asking already overburdened courts for tens of thousands of warrants by months to force them into homes to install prepayment meters. This is unacceptable and we are exploring legal avenues to put an end to it.

Energy UK, which represents energy companies, said suppliers must have exhausted all other options and completed a series of checks before installing a money order prepayment meter.

“Prepayment meters have been a way to help customers monitor and budget for their energy use, but suppliers are very aware of the challenges facing millions of customers today. There are tough decisions about which indebted customers, as suppliers are also required to try to prevent them from accumulating further arrears and as any increase in bad debts will eventually have to be recovered from customers’ invoices.

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