Social Justice

Anger as energy firms allowed to resume force-fitting prepayment meters: 'Cruel and dangerous'

As more people face debt in the cost of living crisis, Ofgem is once again allowing energy firms to forcibly install prepayment meters if customers are behind on their bills

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New rules mean vulnerable people like the over 75s are protected – but only if no one younger is living with them. Image: Unsplash

Campaigners are “horrified” that Ofgem has given energy companies the green light to resume force-fitting prepayment meters.

EDF, Octopus and Scottish Power will once again be allowed to forcibly install the meters when a customer is in debt, as they have met conditions set out by Ofgem.

The energy regulator suspended the “cruel” measure nearly a year ago after a Sunday Times investigation revealed that British Gas was forcing its way into the homes of vulnerable people to fit prepayment meters, against Ofgem rules.

It followed exclusive reporting by The Big Issue in 2022 which found that firms had obtained hundreds of thousands of warrants to enter customers’ homes and forcibly install prepayment meters.

These are generally more expensive than fixed energy tariffs and have been criticised by charities for trapping low-income households in poverty. They require people to pay for energy before using it, usually with a card or token that can be topped up at a shop or via an app.

Simon Francis, coordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, commented: “It is outrageous that energy firms are seeking to use the courts to force people onto prepayment meters in the middle of winter. These meters have the potential to leave them without heating.”

Ofgem suspended the measure in February last year but has since drawn up new rules. Before suppliers can restart involuntary installations, they must meet the conditions set out by Ofgem.

Prepayment meters cannot be forcibly fitted if all members of the household are over the age of 75, if there are children in the household under the age of two, or if anyone lives there with a terminal illness or condition which could worsen in a cold home.

Companies which break the rules will face enforcement action and unlimited fines, and they will be required to refit a standard meter within 24 hours and pay compensation.

“We still have grave concerns about the processes energy firms have in place for assessing vulnerabilities,” Francis said. “Late last year, Scottish Power were found to be trying to seek warrants to force vulnerable households onto prepayment meters.

“Ultimately, without a change in the law, we knew this day would come. MPs and ministers – who ignored pleas to introduce a full ban – can only hope that it is not their vulnerable constituents who are forced onto these meters.”



Research from Citizens Advice last year found that 3.2 million people across the UK ran out of credit on their prepayment meter in 2022 because they didn’t have enough money. This means they were left in a cold and dark home.

Jonathan Bean from Fuel Poverty Action added: “We are horrified that Ofgem has taken the cruel and dangerous decision to allow Scottish Power and others to break into homes and limit energy supplies in the middle of winter. This will leave many people traumatised and cold.”

Louise Rubin, head of policy and campaigns at disability equality charity Scope, said: “This is alarming news for disabled people. Many disabled people rely on energy to power vital and life-saving equipment, such as wheelchairs, hoists and breathing machines.

“Life costs a lot more for disabled people, and if you can’t afford to top up your meter, the consequences could be disastrous. The new rules are a step in the right direction, but they don’t guarantee that disabled people won’t be forced onto prepayment meters.

“And some energy companies have already been shown to break the rules in the past. Ofgem needs to make sure disabled people aren’t being forced into dangerous situations.”

Customers do have rights if they cannot afford to pay their energy bills and companies are legally obliged to help, such as through drawing up a manageable repayment plan.

Francis said: ““If anyone receives a court summons from their energy firm they must contact Citizens Advice, a local law centre or other advice provider as soon as possible to see if help is available to them. Customers should not ignore these letters as the consequences of doing nothing could be severe.”

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