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OFGEM’S new prepayment meter rules “fail to deal” with the energy debt mountain facing struggling households, campaigners have warned, as the watchdog revealed a new code of practice for suppliers today.
The body said that energy firms in England, Scotland and Wales had agreed to the code, which includes a ban on forcibly installing prepayment meters in the homes of people over the age of 85.
Companies will only be able to force the change if they stick to a set of voluntary restrictions and must make at least 10 attempts to contact a customer.
They must also carry out a site welfare visit before a such a meter can be installed and will need to avoid forced installations where a “continuous supply” of energy is needed for health reasons, such as for the terminally ill.
Energy firms will also be required to make representatives fitting meters wear body cameras or audio equipment.
The new rules are a voluntary code of practice for suppliers and the regulator said it will consult on whether it can be made legally binding ahead of the next winter.
Prepayment meters have been widely condemned by campaigners and charities after some energy suppliers, including British Gas, were revealed to be breaking into the homes of people struggling to pay their bills to forcibly instal them.
Firms were then temporarily banned from installing the meters, under warrant.
Energy Secretary Grant Shapps welcomed the announcement and called on Ofgem and suppliers to “put these words into action, so struggling families never again face such mistreatment.”
But National Pensioners’ Convention (NPC) general secretary Jan Shortt called on Mr Shapps to take action on his previous promise to hold energy providers to account.
She told the Star: “The NPC is grateful for the work of Ofgem, but unfortunately this does not go far enough.
“The devil is in the detail as always, and there are suggestions of particular health conditions also being included.”
Ms Shortt said that the meters should be abolished, adding: “Anyone with a disability or with health conditions relies on energy of some sort to help them through the days.
“The NPC would like the regulator to look again at his perception of vulnerability and make provision for everyone in that category.”
She said that the voluntary code was not in customers’ interests.
“We have already experienced the validity of a voluntary code where individual lives have been turned upside down by energy providers,” Ms Shortt said.
“Nothing short of a statutory code and mandatory fines for those providers who think it doesn't apply to them will protect consumers.
End Fuel Poverty Coalition coordinator Simon Francis also said the code does not go far enough, and that the voluntary aspect “undermines its objective.”
He said: “There are really vulnerable groups which have been omitted from its full protection and we have serious concerns about how it will be implemented, such as how people will prove their medical conditions without being humiliated by an energy firm health inspection.
“The plans also fail to deal with the elephant in the room — the growing household energy debt mountain.”
According to figures from the Warm This Winter campaign, 29 per cent of the population is in debt to their energy firm.
Mr Francis said: “This was the government’s opportunity to take meaningful action and introduce targeted debt relief for those most in need.
“It has failed to do so and seems to have given in to energy industry demands to let them go back to the bad old days of forcing prepayment meters onto customers in distress.”
Tom Marsland, policy manager at disability equality charity Scope, called for the restrictions to go further by banning forced installations, while Citizens Advice chief executive Dame Clare Moriarty called for the code to be made mandatory.
Labour’s climate and net zero secretary Ed Miliband said the action is “not good enough.”
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