Thousands are being forced onto pre-pay tariffs
Campaigners have called on the Scottish Government to strengthen legal protections for people being switched to pre-payment meters against their will.
Energy Action Scotland and the Poverty Alliance say they are concerned by the flood of people being moved onto pre-payment by the big energy suppliers - despite guidance from the regulator Ofgem that it should be a last resort.
Earlier this month, Ofgem said that 60,000 households in Great Britain had moved – or been moved - to prepayment in the three months to end October 2022, in contrast to 95,000 in all of 2020.
Half of all the meters in Scotland are old, non-smart meters. That means energy companies have to apply for a warrant from the Sheriff Court to enter the customer’s home when they want to force a switch.
Energy Action Scotland and the Poverty Alliance are now asking the Scottish Government to work with the judiciary and review the conditions for warrants being issued.
Frazer Scott, CEO of Energy Action Scotland, said: “We believe Sheriffs have a duty to make sure that the energy companies have done everything they can to come to an arrangement with a customer, before they issue a warrant.
“We think more could be done to set down guidance for Sheriffs, about what evidence the company has to show in order to get a warrant from the Court. The Ofgem guidance is clear that moving customers onto pre-payment meters should be a last resort. We’re looking to the Scottish Government to help.”
Campaigners are also concerned about the increasing number of people on smart meters who are being moved onto pre-payment mode remotely at the press of a button – even when the customer disagrees.
Poverty Alliance director Peter Kelly said: “People in Scotland believe in a society built on justice and compassion, but this kind of remote switching without consent goes completely against that.
“We know that people on pre-payment meters pay more for their energy, so switching customers could lead to them being pushed into even more unpayable debt.”
Research has found that pre-payment meters customers pay up to 10% more for their energy than direct debit customers. Campaigners say that puts poorer and more vulnerable households are being punished for being on a low income, and that switching people who are struggling to pay should be treated as a de facto disconnection.
Frazer Scott said: “We have heard energy companies assure the public that they will not disconnect any customer from supply. But switching the smart meter of a struggling customer to pre-payment mode is a de facto disconnection. It’s obvious that these people won’t be able to afford credit for the meter, and will end up with no supply.
“At this time of rising costs and increased vulnerability to disconnection we believe that every step should be taken to protect low-income energy consumers.”