This month I was alarmed and distressed to read a newspaper article revealing that British Gas had routinely sent debt collectors to break into some customers’ homes and force fitted pay-as-you-go meters, even when the customers are known to have extreme vulnerabilities.
I do not believe the Government’s response on this issue has been good enough. It has been far too slow to act. Ofgem did reviews in September and November and highlighted the problem, while in early January Citizens Advice reported that three million people on prepayment meters had been disconnected by the back door. Yet even after that, the Government refused to put in place an outright ban on the forced installation of prepayment meters. As a result of this inaction, over 30,000 people had warrants issued for forced installations in the past month alone.
No family in Britain should have to go without the heat and power they need to get by. Even in a period of high energy prices, it should be the number one priority of the government and the energy regulator to do everything they can to ensure that people’s heat and power is not cut off.
We do not cut off people’s water supply in this country because that would be inhumane so why shouldn’t energy companies have to supply a minimum amount of power to all customers, as in France, so that nobody is cut off and left to suffer in cold, dark accommodation?
Therefore I am supporting calls to ban forced installations while we properly reform our energy sector. With energy companies forcing their way into people’s homes and millions getting disconnected by the back door, Rishi Sunak cannot blame others for what is his government’s dereliction of duty. He is standing by while families across the country are being cut off.
If you need help or advice on how to manage your energy bills, my constituency office is open to the public on Mondays between 2 pm and 4 pm, and Wednesdays between 10 am and 12 pm. My upcoming constituency surgeries are advertised on my website. If you are unable to attend a drop in or surgery but would like to raise a casework query, please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
UPDATE FROM OFGEM 21st FEBRUARY 2023
Ofgem, has today set out the next steps in the British Gas investigation and Prepayment Meter (PPM) review to support and protect energy customers when suppliers fit PPMs by force or via remote switch.
Ofgem CEO, Jonathan Brearley, has also called on all suppliers to use the pause in installations (lasting until 31 March 2023) to review all of their recent forced and remotely switched PPM installations, and consider if any need to be reversed, and compensation offered where the strict rules have not been followed.
Jonathan Brearley said:
“As a result of the unprecedented surge in energy prices, households across the country are facing significant energy bills and this has meant many are finding themselves in debt and being forced onto prepayment meters (PPMs). I am concerned about the way customers in already distressing situations are being treated when suppliers force them onto PPMs. That’s why, today, we have set out further details on the two investigations, one into British Gas for potential breaches that have been alleged indicating that something went very badly wrong at British Gas and the other into PPMs across all suppliers to assess whether this is an isolated case.
“The rules and regulations are clear that installing forced PPMs should only be done as a last resort and only where it is safe and practicable to do so. We expect suppliers to treat customers with compassion and professionalism and those executing a warrant should take into account what they find when they visit a home and pause the installation if they see a safety risk. Where this hasn’t happened, we will hold suppliers to account.
“However, I’m telling suppliers not to wait for the outcome of our reviews and to act now to check that PPMs have been installed appropriately, and if rules have been broken, offer customers a reversal of installations and compensation payments where appropriate. There will also be fines issued from Ofgem if the issue is found to be systemic.
“We are taking this issue extremely seriously and customers should feel reassured that where the rules have been broken, Ofgem will act.”
The regulator has today announced: