Octopus Energy has committed to stop forcibly installing prepayment energy meters in people’s homes when they fall behind on their bills. Prepayment meters need to be topped up with credit on a pay-as-you-go basis and are typically a more expensive payment option. When households on other plans fall behind on payments or end up in debt, energy companies have been known to send debt agents to break into people’s homes and forcibly install these meters.
In fact, a recent investigation by the I paper revealed that just 72 of over 500,000 warrants were rejected.
Now, Octopus Energy, which used prepayment meters as a tool to control debt fewer than 200 times and 31 via warrant, has committed to stop using this tactic.
A spokesperson said: “We suspended all Bulb (Octopus took recently took over Bulb after it went bust) warrants shortly after taking over, and Octopus has only installed around 30 meters in prepayment mode via warrant ever – about the same as other companies install every day.
“We’re not installing any at the moment – but companies with a history of abusing customers shouldn’t get away with it just by briefly suspending their activities until the storm is over.”
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The firm also says there are more effective and better ways to help customers who aren’t able to pay for their energy on a regular basis. For instance, it notes that before it comes anywhere close to switching customers to prepayment, it tries to contact them numerous times over a period of at least 6 month, be it via email, calls, texts, writing letters and even visits in person.
If the company discovers that a customer is vulnerable at any point, the whole process is cancelled and it looks to offer other support instead.
Other steps it offers to help customers manage their debt and support them through the winter include:
- Personalised account help (e.g. return of credit or payment holidays)
- Monetary credits from our £15m ‘Octo Assist’ fund (helped 60,000+ people so far)
- Access to existing support schemes such as the Warm Home Discount
- In-home energy saving advice to help customers make simple adjustments to save money on their energy bills (e.g. lowering the flow temperature of a gas boiler)
- Free electric blankets to the most vulnerable
This comes after an investigation by The Times exposed the British Gas ruthless tactics British Gas has been using to force-fit prepayment meters. This energy giant has also pledged to suspend “all warrant activity until at least after winter” after it was exposed for using a third-party company, Arvato Financial Solutions, to install prepayment meters in vulnerable people’s homes.
Centrica CEO Chris O’Shea said: “Protecting vulnerable customers is an absolute priority and we have clear processes and policies to ensure we manage customer debt carefully and safely. The allegations around our third-party contractor Arvato [Financial Solutions] are unacceptable and we immediately suspended their warrant activity.”
But Business Secretary Grant Shapps said: “Switching customers – and particularly those who are vulnerable – to prepayment meters should only ever be a last resort and every other possible alternative should be exhausted. These findings suggest British Gas are doing anything but this.”
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Figures from the Warm This Winter campaign previously revealed that two-thirds of prepayment meter customers are vulnerable. It warned that what has been exposed is just “the tip of the iceberg”.
Simon Francis, co-ordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition said: “Ministers have fallen for the energy industry’s spin that they don’t use court warrants to install pre-payment meters on vulnerable customers.”
Gillian Cooper, Head of Energy Policy at Citizens Advice, said: “It’s truly shocking to see the extent of bad practices amongst some energy suppliers. Our frontline advisers know only too well the desperate situations so many struggling customers have found themselves in.
“Time and time again we have called for a ban on forced prepayment meter installations until new protections for customers are brought in.”
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