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Ban energy companies from forcing customers onto prepay meters

This news post is over 1 year old

An MP called the forced switch "morally repugnant"

The act of forcing energy customers onto prepayment meters should be banned, a leading charity has said.

Some 600,000 people were put onto the prepay meters last year, with 160,000 more expected by the end of the winter.

Pay-as-you-go tariffs are significantly more expensive than Direct Debit and hit those on low incomes the hardest.

Now Citizens Advice is calling for the government to ban energy companies from forcing people onto them if they have debts.

Suppliers can use the technology to swap customers onto the prepayment method without their permission.

It gave the example of one of the charity's clients who said her power went off just before Christmas, and later discovered her meter had been switched to prepayment mode.

"I assumed it was a power cut. I had no way to make any calls, so my daughter and I were left in the dark all night with no heating, lights or means of making any food," she told the charity.

"I explained that I was on the priority services register. I also said I'm in a wheelchair and unable to access my meter, but none of it made a difference. I'm now reliant on my sister or her husband to go to the post office to help me top up my meter.

"Over Christmas I went without energy because the credit ran out, and the post office was closed, so my daughter and I sat there cold, in the dark."

Dame Clare Moriarty, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: "The staggering rise in the cost of living means many simply cannot afford to heat and power their homes to safe levels.

"New protections are needed to stop people being fully cut off from gas and electricity. Until then, there must be a total ban on energy companies forcing those already at breaking point onto prepayment meters."

Under the terms of their licence, suppliers are not allowed to move customers on to a prepayment meter if they have an illness or disability which means they would be harmed if their gas or electricity was cut off.

Suppliers have also signed up to a commitment to avoid cutting off anyone who is on a pension, disabled, chronically sick or has children over winter.

However, there are holes in the safety net. Disabled and vulnerable people already on prepay have been left without energy supplies, risking “physical and emotional harm”.

The charity said that over 130,000 homes inhabited by a disabled person or someone with a long-term health condition are being disconnected from their energy supply at least once a week as they cannot afford to top up.

The Scottish National party MP Anne McLaughlin sponsored a private member’s bill that requires companies to allow a grace period before disconnecting customers with prepayment meters who have run out of credit, granting them extended emergency credit for six months.

She labelled energy suppliers “morally repugnant”.



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Dominic Notarangelo
over 1 year ago

Ofgem have a lot to answer for. There is absolutely no reason why prepayment meters should deliver utilities at a higher cost. That practice is unfair and discriminatory.

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about 1 year ago

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