British Gas will be 'told to pay compensation to customers with force-fitted prepayment meters' if wrongly installed

10 February 2023, 08:08 | Updated: 10 February 2023, 10:05

Energy suppliers could be forced to compensate those who had prepayment meters force-fitted
Energy suppliers could be forced to compensate those who had prepayment meters force-fitted. Picture: LBC/Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

British gas will have to pay compensation to customers with force-fitted prepayment meters if an investigation confirms they were incorrectly installed, an Ofgem executive has said.

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Akshay Kaul, Ofgem's director for infrastructure and security of supply, said customers would be able to request that their prepayments are removed and claim compensation, depending on the outcome of the regulator's investigation.

British Gas debt agents broke into vulnerable people's homes to install prepayment meters.

The controversial practice sees energy companies apply to the courts for permission to force their way into customers' homes and fit a meter if they fall behind on bills.

"If prepayment meters have been incorrectly installed, that is not in compliance with the rules," Mr Kaul told LBC's Dean Dunham - as it emerged that all suppliers have agreed to stop forcing meters on customers.

"If that is what the investigation ultimately concludes then consumers have a right to have them uninstalled if that is what they wish and they have a right to seek compensation and that is what we will be asking any suppliers that are in that situation to do."

Consumers have a right to have them uninstalled, Mr Kaul said.
Consumers have a right to have them uninstalled, Mr Kaul said. Picture: LBC

He added: "I don’t want to prejudge the investigation and it is really important that we follow due process, gather all the evidence and consider whether this is an individual case."

The move follows growing pressure from newly-appointed Energy Security Secretary Grant Shapps for the regulator to crack down more on suppliers amid the spiralling energy crisis.

Mr Shapps previously criticised Ofgem for "taking at face value" what company bosses were telling them and suggested they "refocus" efforts on customers.

And on Friday, Mr Shapps said: "All suppliers are now halting forced installations, magistrates are no longer signing off warrant applications and Ofgem are upping their game when it comes to their reviews.

"But 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."

Read more: Ofgem tells energy firms to stop force-fitting prepayment meters after British Gas agents broke into home to fit them

Read more: Fury as British Gas debt collectors force their way into vulnerable people's homes to install prepayment meters

Dean Dunham asks Ofgem what LBC listeners want to know

When pushed on whether energy suppliers would be "asked" or "told" to compensate customers, Mr Kaul went on to say: "If there are cases where there are inappropriate installations of PPMs, and those customers wish to go back to a standard meter, that is their choice and of course we will want suppliers to respect the wishes of those customers.

"To the extent that there is harm that has been caused to consumers then a standard enforcement principle is that we want suppliers to compensate, to offer redress to consumers for the harm that has been caused."

British Gas debt agents broke into vulnerable people's homes to install prepayment meters
British Gas debt agents broke into vulnerable people's homes to install prepayment meters. Picture: Alamy

He explained that forced installation of the prepayment meters should be "an absolute last resort".

"If a customer is in difficulty, or struggling to pay your bill, your very first thing should be to call your energy supplier and they should work with you to agree a debt programme so that it is affordable over a period of time to pay your energy and take all reasonable steps, giving you advice on how to consume in a way that allows you to afford the energy you need," Mr Kaul said.

"It is only when customers are unable to do that, unable to agree a debt plan or are being uncooperative then a forced installation of prepayment meters is that last resort before any debt recovery action through the courts is taken.

"We really don't want to see that – that is incredibly traumatic for people."

Elderly woman using a quantum key prepayment electric meter
Elderly woman using a quantum key prepayment electric meter. Picture: Alamy

He said the move is "never" appropriate for those with underlying medical conditions that could be impacted.

British Gas has since announced that it has stopped force-fitting prepayment meters and apologised for the way some customers were treated.

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