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Ofgem bans forced installation of pre-pay meters for over-85s - with installation of devices a 'last resort'
18 April 2023, 00:04 | Updated: 18 April 2023, 14:52
All household energy suppliers have agreed to a new code of practice which bans forcibly installing prepayment meters in homes where all residents are aged over 85.
All suppliers in Great Britain will sign up to the new code of practice, after an investigation by The Times found some companies were breaking into the homes of those struggling with bills to install the pre-payment meters.
Jonathan Brearley, chief executive officer of Ofgem, said: "Ofgem's new voluntary code of practice is a minimum standard that clearly sets out steps all suppliers must take before moving to a PPM (prepayment meter).
"If and when involuntary PPMs are used, it must be as a last resort, and customers in vulnerable situations will be given the extra care and consideration they deserve, over and above the rules already in place, by suppliers - something that has clearly not always been happening.
"This new code of practice means, for some people, PPMs should never be installed, and, for high-risk groups, their energy needs must be protected with a higher level of consideration.
"We expect the overall number of involuntary PPM installations will fall over time, and we recognise that a careful balance is required to help manage debt, while protecting customers in vulnerable situations."
The Guardian reports suppliers must make at least 10 attempts to contact a customer, as well as visiting their home for a "site welfare visit" before the controversial device can be installed.
Those who were wrongly subjected to a PPM will be returned to their original tariff and also offered compensation under the new code of practice.
Ofgem previously ordered suppliers to stop force-fitting prepayment meters after an investigation found British Gas debt agents broke into vulnerable people's homes to install them.
Following the investigation, British Gas announced it had stopped force-fitting prepayment meters and apologised for the way some customers had been treated.
The controversial practice sees energy companies apply to the courts for permission for debt agents to force their way into customers' homes and fit a meter if they fall behind on bills.
Jonathan Brearley, Ofgem’s chief executive, told The Times in February that a warning had been issued to all energy supplies to suspend the breaking into homes and force-fitting of equipment.
An Ofgem spokesperson said at the time: “These are extremely serious allegations from The Times. We are launching an urgent investigation into British Gas and we won’t hesitate to take firm enforcement action.
“It is unacceptable for any supplier to impose forced installations on vulnerable customers struggling to pay their bills before all other options have been exhausted and without carrying out thorough checks to ensure it is safe and practicable to do so.
“We have launched a major market-wide review investigating the rapid growth in prepayment meter installations and potential breaches of licences driving it."
An investigation by The Times has found British Gas continued to undertake the practice, after a reporter joined Arvato Financial Solutions – a company used by the energy giant to chase debts.
In one case, debt agents broke into a single father-of-three's home to install a prepayment meter during freezing conditions, and in another instance they force-fit one at the home of a young mother who had a four-week-old baby and was facing soaring energy bills.
Job notes showed British Gas customers had forced prepayment meter fittings at the home of a woman in her 50s who was thought to have "severe mental health bipolar", a woman who had "mobility problems and is short sighted" and a mother whose daughter "is disabled and has a hoist and [an] electric wheelchair".