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Everything you need to know about the new pre-payment meters code of practice
18 April 2023, 18:36 | Updated: 20 April 2023, 09:57
The energy regulator, Ofgem, has announced an updated Code of Practice and tougher oversight pre-payment meters (PPMs) this week, following the recent negative press surrounding British Gas and other providers prematurely force fitting PPMs.
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It says the Code of Practice sets out clear procedures that suppliers must follow, strengthening protections for customers in vulnerable situations.
The question now is does the updated code solve the problems with PPMs that have been exposed recently and will vulnerable consumers therefore now be protected from powerful energy providers? I think not. Here's what you need to know:
What does the updated code say?
The Code says that suppliers and their contractors must:
- Make at least 10 attempts to contact a customer before a PPM is installed
- Carry out a site welfare visit before a PPM is installed
- Refrain from all involuntary installations for the highest risk customers including; Households which require a continuous supply for health reasons, including dependence on powered medical equipment; People over 85 years of age (if there is no other support in the house); Households with residents with severe health issues including terminal illnesses or those with a medical dependency on a warm home (for example due to illness such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis, sickle cell disease); Where there is no one within the household that has the ability to top up the meter due to physical or mental incapacity
- Make sure audio or body cameras worn by lead supplier representative present on all warrant installations or site welfare visits to check for vulnerabilities ahead of an involuntary installation or remote mode switch. All audio and footage will be available for audit
- Give a £30 credit per meter (or equivalent non-disconnection period) applied on all warrant installations and remote switches as a short-term credit/measure to remove the risk of customers going off supply
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- Re-assess the case once a customer has repaid debts owed. Suppliers must contact the customer to offer assessment of whether a PPM remains the most suitable and preferred payment method of choice for consumers; if any PPM customer is clear of debt and wishes to move off PPM (understanding any changes in the tariff they will pay), the supplier must agree where the customer passes any required credit checks.
A Code of Practice dealing with PPMs was already in place and was widely being ignored by energy suppliers.
Most notably, British Gas was found to have been flouting the code five years ago and not only was no action taken, but we also now know it was left to carry on flouting the rules as has recently come to light.
So clearly, it's not a new set of rules are needed but rather new set of teeth for Ofgem to enforce such rules. Within its press release Ofgem says it will be consulting on incorporating the Code into suppliers' licences, which would make it legally enforceable.
So, for now what happens if suppliers ignore the new code of practice? I suspect nothing.