Energy suppliers will stop forcing vulnerable households onto prepayment meters, following further pressure on the industry from Downing Street.
Grant Shapps, energy secretary, has confirmed that all energy suppliers have now committed to ending forced installations of prepayment meters in vulnerable customers’ homes.
This follows Ofgem ordering suppliers to suspend warrants for forced installations going through courts, as first reported by City A.M.
He warned suppliers that halting forced installations is “only the beginning” of his push to protect vulnerable customers.
Shapps said: ““People will have understandably been shocked and appalled at how vulnerable people’s homes have been invaded and prepayment meters installed against their wishes – and suppliers are only at the beginning of correcting this abhorrent behaviour.”
The watchdog has been urged by Shapps to improve its oversight of suppliers after British Gas owner Centrica reportedly used a third party enforcement agency to break into people’s homes to install pre-payment meters, as uncovered by The Times.
It found that a company used by British Gas to pursue debts, Arvato Financial Solutions, had forced their way into people’s homes to fit prepayment meters, despite signs children and disabled people were living there.
Ofgem has now committed to speaking to consumers rather than just energy suppliers about their experiences in future industry reviews.
Shapps has called on them to set up a new customer reporting system for households to pass on their own stories of how they are being treated.
The regulator has confirmed it will look at doing this, such as engaging more with charities and other groups that represent consumers.
Alongside clamping down on forced pre-payment installation, Shapps also set suppliers a deadline to urgently report back on remedial action for customers who faced wrongful installations.
He asked all suppliers to set out what they are doing to support their customers, how many warrants they have each sought, and plans to redress any wrongdoing.
While all energy firms responded by the deadline, a number of suppliers failed to outline what redress would be provided to customers who suffered wrongful installations – such as compensation, or replacement of a prepayment meter with a credit meter.
Shapps said: “I am angered by the fact some have so freely moved vulnerable customers onto prepayment meters, without a proper plan to take remedial action where there has been a breach of the rules. So, I have only received half the picture as it still doesn’t include enough action to offer redress to those who have been so appallingly treated.
“This is simply not good enough and absolutely needs to be addressed by Ofgem’s review – I want to see plans from suppliers actually acted upon – and customers given the service they have a right to expect.”
Shapps is sharing the responses with Ofgem – which is currently carrying out a review into the use of prepayment meters.