Money Matters: More energy companies can start force-fitting pre-payment meters again

In this week’s Money Matters column, Wrekin’s Debt and Energy Manager Dan Bebbington looks into the new rules around force-fitting pre-payment meters.

It’s no secret that millions of households are struggling with their bills this winter, with the cost-of-living crisis still in full swing and the energy price cap having gone up again at the start of the year.

Ofgem recently revealed that UK customers are in debt by a record £2.9 billion to their energy suppliers.

Last month energy companies were allowed to re-start the forced installation of pre-payment meters in certain homes with energy debt, after the practise was banned last February amid concerns for vulnerable customers.

While people with pre-payment meters can’t accumulate debt on their energy accounts, they are faced with another worry – being cut off if they can’t afford to top them up. Citizens Advice estimates two million households will be in this position this winter.

Pre-pay meters also come with an added disadvantage, in that energy is generally more expensive than paying by direct debit.

In January Ofgem permitted three providers – Scottish Power, EDF, Octopus – to begin involuntary installations again, after the companies met a set of conditions.

Octopus said that, despite the permission, it had no plans to start using the powers. Scottish Power and EDF said it would only ever be a last resort.

This week E.On and Tru Energy have also been given permission to re-start force-fitting meters.

The conditions suppliers have to meet to be allowed to resume the practice include carrying out an internal audit, signing up to a new ‘Code of Practice’ and agreeing to supply regular monitoring data to Ofgem.

To forcibly install a pre-payment meters, a court warrant is needed to enter the property. However, for homes with a smart meter, the switch over can be done remotely.

Under the Code of Practice, suppliers cannot take this action against customers over 75 with no support in the house, families with children under two, people with severe health conditions, those who need continuous power for medical equipment, or customers who are unable to go and top their meter up due to physical or mental incapacity.

Extra consideration also has to be given to households with children under five or where someone in the home has a medical condition.

Before forcibly installing a new meter, the supplier must make at least 10 attempts to contact the customer and carry out a welfare visit.

Body-worn cameras must be used, and £30 credit put on the meters.

Once a customer has cleared their debt, the Code says suppliers have to allow them to get rid of their pre-pay meter if they wish to.

If energy firms don’t follow the rules, they can face court action, fines and be told to pay compensation. If you believe your provider has acted wrongly, you can complain. You can go to the Energy Ombudsman if you’re unhappy with the outcome.

If you’re worried about your energy bills, there is help available. Speak to your energy supplier as soon as possible – most can offer grants to help customers clear energy debt, which you may be eligible for.

If you can’t afford to top up a pre-payment meter, you might be able to get a fuel voucher. Your local council might be able to help with this, or you can speak to an energy advisor.

Some charities offering support and advice include the Fuel Bank Foundation, National Energy Action, Green Doctors, and Act on Energy. Wrekin Housing Group customers can also access our free energy advice service.

22nd February 2024