Forced meter installations suspended for six weekson February 15, 2023 at 2:22 pm

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The energy watchdog has told suppliers to suspend forced prepayment meter installations for the next six weeks.

person turns radiatorImage source, Getty Images

The energy watchdog has told suppliers to suspend forced prepayment meter installations for the next six weeks.

In a letter sent to energy companies on Wednesday, Ofgem told them to halt forced installations and remote transfers to prepayment meters until the end of March 2023.

Ofgem said all domestic suppliers had agreed to do so.

The regulator will consult on how firms should use prepayment meters and whether the rules should be changed.

Next week, on 21 February, it will publish an update on the scope and timelines of its Market Compliance Review on prepayment meter warrant installations and remote mode switching.

Energy firms suspended forced meter installations after it was revealed that British Gas agents had broken into vulnerable people’s homes to fit meters.

After the story was published by The Times, Chris O’Shea, the boss of Centrica which owns British Gas, told the BBC: “It is completely unacceptable.”

Ofgem said: “The energy crisis is no excuse for unacceptable behaviour towards any customer, particularly those in vulnerable circumstances.”

It asked suppliers to suspend installations and review the use of court warrants to enter the homes of customers in arrears.

British Gas said it would suspend forcefully installing prepayment meters until at least after the winter. Wednesday’s letter makes it clear that the suspension will last until spring.

The letter reveals that Ofgem requested suppliers to halt forced installations during a meeting last week.

It made clear that: “For the avoidance of doubt, this includes ceasing installation by warrant, ceasing the remote mode switch of smart meters to pre-payment without explicit agreement from the customer, and ceasing new applications to court for installation warrants – unless theft is suspected.”

Ofgem said some suppliers had warned that unrecoverable debts could climb if prepayment meters couldn’t be fitted.

That would increase their costs, suppliers said, which could in turn lead to larger bills for other customers.

The regulator said it was examining closely how customer debts affect suppliers’ costs and was working to “determine what action we need to take”.

Prepayment meter rules

There are more than four million UK households on prepayment meters. The current rules state:

  • Customers pay for their energy in advance, either through an account or using a top-up card. Emergency credit is available
  • The cost per unit of energy is higher than direct debit, because of the costs involved for suppliers. Sometimes it is the only option for people already in debt to a supplier
  • Some customers who do not pay regular bills can be moved to prepayment, either remotely on a smart meter, or physically under the power of a court warrant
  • Suppliers are required to have exhausted all other options before installing a prepayment meter, and should not do so for vulnerable customers, including the elderly and those with young children

They could be changed after Ofgem’s consultation, which will include talking to energy suppliers, consumer groups and charities to consider the rules and guidance on the use of pre-payment meters, not just during “the current exceptional circumstances” but in future, too.

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