Martin Lewis offers advice on prepayment meters and rate changes
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Campaigners fighting fuel poverty have laid out a plan for the Government to help stop millions of Britains from being subjected to “Victorian” living conditions. This is due to the forced installation of prepayment meters. With energy bills already double what they were in 2021, families are battling fuel poverty, with households already trying to cope amid the cost of living crisis. But energy firms have reportedly been “forcibly” installing prepayment meters in customers’ homes, switching them onto a more expensive payment option that can leave them sitting in the dark if they don’t top up their meter.
The End Fuel Poverty Coalition told express.co.uk that this has left millions of Britons freezing in “cold, damp homes” and has now laid out a plan the Government can follow to take action.
It comes after figures from the Citizens Advice charity revealed that 3.2million people were left in cold and dark homes last year after running out of credit needed to top up their meters.
Simon Francis, co-ordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, told Express.co.uk: “The true depths of the pre-payment meters crisis have been revealed by the Citizens Advice research. But the truth is that the figures are just the tip of the iceberg. The situation is so dire that research from the Warm This Winter campaign found that a third of pre-payment meter customers are living in cold damp homes.
“Living in these Victorian conditions causes huge health complications, especially for those with the elderly, disabled and those with health conditions or infants in the household. Pre-payment meters have been forced on many of these households either by energy firms using court warrants to install the meters or by switching smart meters to pre-payment mode.
“There is now a growing realisation among MPs that this is untenable and energy firms’ assurances of helping vulnerable people do not stack up. We need the Government to act to ban forced transfers to pre-payment meters.
“A failure to do so will plunge more people deeper into fuel poverty and lead to increasing pressures on the NHS.”
And Mr Francis provided express.co.uk with a list of instructions for energy suppliers, ministers and Ofgem (the industry regulator), to better address the issue.
- Moratorium (BEIS/Ofgem/Suppliers)
- Moving vulnerable households away from prepayment meters (Ofgem) through better use of smart meters (Ofgem)
- Addressing the price structure of energy for prepayment customers
- Social Tariff / Energy For All (BEIS/Treasury)
The list continued:
- Reducing prepayment meter differential with Direct debit tariff (Ofgem/BEIS)
- Reduce standing charges (Ofgem/HMT)
- Targeting support to prepayment customers
- Identify households that self-disconnect (Ofgem)
- Develop a package of financial support for prepayment meter customers to stop them self-disconnecting
The list also included addressing the debt burden for prepayment customers, ensuring suppliers are meeting their obligations re debt (Ofgem) and a debt repayment matching plan (Treasury).
Charities have warned that suppliers have been ramping up the use of court warrants to force their way into homes to install these prepayment meters. Some magistrates have been known to approve thousands of applications at a time.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has been contacted for a comment on this proposed plan.
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In homes with a smart meter, the change can be completed remotely without the need for a warrant, shifting customers onto more expensive plans. Citizens Advice estimated that 600,000 people were forced to make the move away from credit meters after piling up debt with their energy supplier last year.
In 2021, this figure was nearly twice as low, at 380,000, according Citizens Advice’s report.
The charity has called for an immediate ban on the use of these court warrants and has warned that a further 160,000 people could be switched off by the end of winter unless further action is taken.
Prepay meters charge for energy at a higher rate than contracts where the customer pays monthly or through direct debit.
As a result, those in debt on prepay meters often have no choice but to “self-disconnect” in order to save money.
Have you been forcibly switched onto more expensive payment plans by your energy provider? Share your story with science reporter Jacob Paul by emailing: [email protected]
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