Martin Lewis offers advice on prepayment meters and rate changes
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Rishi Sunak’s Government has called for a “substantial crackdown” on energy firms forcibly installing prepayment meters into the homes of vulnerable Britons who fall behind on their energy bills amid the cost of living crisis. Courts have issued hundreds of thousands of warrants to energy companies allowing them to forcibly enter customers’ homes to install prepayment meters, which need to be topped up with credit on a pay-as-you-go basis.
When they don’t have the funds to top up their energy meters, these Britons can be left sitting in the dark and cold during freezing temperatures, which raises serious health risks.
This week, Minister of State for Energy and Climate Graham Stuart met with representatives from multiple energy companies and charities to discuss how to resolve the issue, which has been described as a huge scandal.
He said: “On Wednesday I challenged energy suppliers on why more and more households are being forced onto prepayment meters.
“Suppliers have agreed to bring forward proposals to identify customer circumstances before switching at-risk households – so vulnerable families do not find themselves cut off from energy supply, unable to stay warm or keep the lights on.”
Now, he has called on energy suppliers to share their exact figures on how many forced installations they have made, noting that several already have.
The minister said: “Transparency is key and customers need to know those suppliers that will prioritise their welfare.
“I have been clear that I expect substantial action over the rest of the winter to crack down on rising numbers of forced prepayment switching and to make sure more support and kindness is offered to vulnerable customers. I will be monitoring the situation closely to make sure improvements are seen.”
This comes after an investigation by the i found that just 72 out of more than 500,000 applications by energy firms to force entry into homes to install prepayment meters were refused since July 2021.
But according to Helen Lord, CEO of the Vulnerability Registration Service, the forced entry into peoples’ homes and installment of prepayment meters has been happening “as long as I can remember”.
She told Express.co.uk: “It is not a new issue. The difference now is that, particularly with society’s most vulnerable people, there is suddenly more awareness of it and the impact it is having.”
Ms Lord added: “It’s highly distressing and intrusive for people who are already in severe difficulties. These are vulnerable people who are already at breaking point, often already facing extreme levels of debt, mentally unable to understand their finances or manage their day-to-day tasks or physically far more reliant on services from their utility providers.
However, she is glad that the issue is “finally getting the attention it has desperately needed”.
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Simon Francis from the End Fuel Poverty Coalition described the situation as “absolute horror story”.
He told Express.co.uk: “Thousands of people are being forced onto pre-payment meters against their will and don’t forget these shocking figures don’t include people having their smart meter switched onto pre-payment mode without their consent.”
Also this week, Business Secretary Grant Shapps wrote to energy suppliers and industry regulator Ofgem on Sunday, laying out a proposal to help stop the forced installation of the expensive meters.
His plan is as follows:
- A call for suppliers to voluntarily stop the practice of forced prepayment switching as the answer to households struggling to pay bills and make greater effort to help the most vulnerable.
- Request of the release of supplier data on the number of warrant applications they have made to forcibly enter homes to install meters.
- Urgent publication of a list of supplier redemption rates for the Energy Bills Support Scheme vouchers – showing who is meeting their responsibilities and who needs to do more.
- The launch of a government public information campaign reminding and informing eligible consumers to redeem their Energy Bills Support Scheme vouchers and how to do so. This will be through both advertising and direct communication channels, targeting the most vulnerable and those most likely not to have redeemed vouchers.
- Coordination with Ofgem ensure they take a more robust approach to the protection of vulnerable customers and conduct a review to make sure suppliers are complying with rules.
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