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Government urged to ban forced installation of prepayment meters

ENERGY firms may soon resume breaking into people’s homes to fit prepayment meters unless ministers step in, fuel campaigners have warned.

Revelations that energy firms were employing bailiffs using court warrants to force their way into thousands of customers’ homes to install prepayment meters caused outrage in February.

Energy companies’ poorest and most vulnerable customers were targeted for installation of the devices, which cut off their energy supplies if the meter is not fed money.

Firms described the cut-offs as “voluntary disconnection” when customers had no money for the meter.

After an outcry to the mass issuing of thousands of warrants to break into people’s homes, courts banned the break-ins; but energy regulator Ofgem introduced a self-regulating code of practice for energy providers enabling them to resume forced break-ins and installations.

Scottish Power has now reportedly secured warrants and broken into the homes of mothers with young children to force them onto prepay meters using the code. But the firm claims it was unaware of the customers’ circumstances and would not have installed a meter forcibly had this become clear.

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition has now called on ministers to ban the forced installation of the meters, which also charge more for energy than other payment methods.

In a letter to Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho, the coalition has accused energy firms and the government of trying to wash their hands of responsibility for the scandal of forced installations.

It asked Ms Coutinho to ban the forced installation of prepay meters through legislation, instruct Ofgem that the current ban must stay in place until at least April 2024, monitor Scottish Power and instruct the firm and its subcontractors to cancel all warrants it has sought so far.

National Pensioners Convention general secretary Jan Shortt said: “The Secretary of State must ensure that the regulator Ofgem is much more proactive in applying the code of practice. 

“The NPC has been assured in writing that no energy provider currently meets the standards and therefore no court should be undertaking the signing of warrants.” 

Jonathan Bean from Fuel Poverty Action said: “This is yet more evidence that energy firms and Ofgem cannot be trusted to protect struggling customers from harm.”

A government spokesperson said: “Suppliers must abide by Ofgem’s new rules to protect vulnerable customers, including ensuring there are no older people over 75 and no children under two subject to mandatory pre-payment meter installations.

“Installations remain paused until suppliers have shown the regulator they will do this and that includes only applying for warrants where appropriate.

“No warrants should be acted on until Ofgem have agreed this can take place, on a supplier-by-supplier basis and we will be seeking updates from suppliers and Ofgem in light of these highly concerning cases, to ensure installations only resume when it is crystal clear that no vulnerable families will be impacted.”

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