The Memo: Forced prepayment meters land energy suppliers in hot water

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Forced prepayment meters land energy suppliers in hot water while customers are left in the cold

Alice Gregory – 11 April 2023

According to government data, a shocking 94,000 prepayment meters (PPMs) were forcibly fitted in 2022, an average of 7,500 forced installations per month. 70% of these were carried out by British Gas, Scottish Power and Ovo Energy, raising concerns about the mistreatment of vulnerable customers.

A PPM is a meter that requires customers to pay for their energy in advance using a smart card, cash token or ‘key’, with customers often needing to travel (to a local supermarket, for instance) to top-up. Alternatively, smart meters can also be remotely switched to PPM mode by an energy supplier. As it stands, households using prepayment meters on the whole pay a higher price for gas and electricity, meaning that some may ‘self-disconnect’ if they can’t afford to top up the meter. For particularly vulnerable people, this creates an even bigger problem when meters are forcibly installed, especially for those who require constant power for vital medical equipment, or mobility issues that might restrict their access to top-up points. In these situations, forced PPM installations are technically prohibited, but reports suggest that this hasn’t stopped some companies from carrying out the practice anyway.

In response to concerns, Ofgem issued a suspension of all forced meter installations until 31 March 2023 (although the regulator has since announced that it will be extending the ban). Suppliers have also been advised to check if any PPMs have been incorrectly installed and, if so, remove them and offer appropriate compensation. In the interim, Ofgem has announced that it will also review whether British Gas has complied with the relevant Gas and Electricity Supply Standard Licence Conditions. Under these rules, suppliers must provide information on how much households should expect to pay in a year, the details of cheaper tariffs on offer in their annual statement, and the rules they follow.

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