Households remotely switched to prepay meters

Experts have warned that this practice which is not being communicated to customers might leave some of the most vulnerable without power for weeks

Big Zero Report 2022

More households with smart meters were reportedly remotely switched to more costly prepayment meters by their energy suppliers.

It is estimated that 500 customers have been switched to prepayment plans this year – this means that households are forced to face higher energy bills as pay-as-you-go prepayment tariffs are pricier than the existing ones.

It has been reported that in some cases, customers are not even given enough notice to consider this move.

Last week, the energy regulator published a letter to suppliers to warn them of their concerns surrounding remote switching.

An Ofgem spokesperson told ELN: “Suppliers must always make sure a prepayment meter is safe. Installation under warrant should only be used a last resort and suppliers must step in early to help customers manage debt through repayment plans.

“This includes making proactive contact if a customer is in payment difficulty, assessing repayments based on what a customer can afford and ensuring debt recovery actions are done in a fair and proportionate way.”

Gillian Cooper, Head of Energy Policy for Citizens Advice, said: “Switching people onto prepayment meters when they fall into debt is disconnection by the backdoor. Hundreds of thousands could be left in cold, dark homes this winter if they can’t afford to top up.

“The government should temporarily ban energy companies from forcing people onto prepayment meters this winter.

“Until then, suppliers have a responsibility to make sure they are supporting their customers to pay their bills – Ofgem must make sure they are doing this.”

A spokesperson for Energy UK told ELN: “Suppliers are required to exhaust all other options, including contacting the customer a number of times to offer repayment plans, before they can move customers onto prepayment meters.

“Smart meters offer many benefits to prepayment customers, including providing them the opportunity to top up without having to leave their home, as well as being an effective way of helping people budget and monitor their energy usage.

“However, we know record energy costs are making life very difficult for prepayment customers right now, which is why many suppliers have put in place additional measures to identify and support vulnerable customers this winter.”

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