Energy suppliers to resume forced installation of prepayment meters

Almost a year after it was put on hold, energy firms have been given permission to start forcing prepayment meters into people’s homes again.

EDF, Octopus, and Scottish Power are able to reinstall the meters if they fulfil the conditions that have been established by the industry regulator, Ofgem.

Energy providers were authorised to install meters on residences without a homeowner’s consent for a long time. However, it was discovered that British Gas agents had installed them improperly.

They were breaking Ofgem regulations by barging into the homes of the vulnerable. Following a Times newspaper investigation, the incident surfaced early in 2017 and sparked a public outcry.

The meters were fitted (or smart meters automatically switched to prepay mode) when people did not pay previous bills, and there was no prospect of payment.

It was designed to avoid further debts building up because these meters require gas and electricity to be paid for upfront.

No forced meter installation has been permitted since February of last year. Since then, Ofgem has created new regulations outlining the obligations of suppliers.

Under the rules, meters should not be fitted:

  • When customers are over 75, unless someone younger also lives in the home
  • In households with children under the age of two
  • If anyone lives there with a terminal illness or certain conditions which would get worse in a cold home

Any company that breaks the rules would face enforcement action and unlimited fines. They would also be required to refit a standard meter within 24 hours and pay compensation.

“Protecting consumers is our number one priority,” said Tim Jarvis, director general for markets at Ofgem.

“We’ve made clear that suppliers must exhaust all other options before considering forced installation of a prepayment meter, and consumers can help themselves by reaching out to their supplier as soon as possible if they think they won’t be able to pay their bill, so payment options can be discussed.

“While nobody wants to see the practices uncovered last year repeated, we also know that allowing households to build up unsustainable amounts of debt isn’t the right thing to do either.”

Campaigners want a total ban on the force-fitting of prepayment meters. Such a ban would need to be introduced by government ministers.

What should I do if my energy bill is too expensive?

Check your direct debit

The amount you pay each month is determined by the approximate amount of energy you consume annually. If you consume less than you estimated, your supplier may lower your cost.

Pay what you can

Request a “able to pay plan” from your supplier based on your financial situation if you are unable to make your quarterly or direct debit payments.

Know your benefits

Make sure you are claiming all the benefits to which you are entitled. A helpful tutorial can be found on the independent MoneyHelper website. Click here.

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