Posted: Sun 5th Feb 2023

Energy firm bosses given Tuesday deadline for prepayment meter action

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Sunday, Feb 5th, 2023

Business and Energy Secretary Grant Shapps has given energy bosses a deadline of Tuesday to report back to him on the remedial action they plan to take regarding the wrongful installation of prepayment meters in the homes of vulnerable customers.

This comes after The Times newspaper investigation found that even those with small children or medical conditions were not shown forbearance and debt collectors were breaking into homes to install the equipment.

Despite several reviews by Ofgem, the regulator has not identified this unacceptable behaviour and has given some companies a clean bill of health.

In response, the Business Secretary has told Ofgem to toughen up on energy suppliers and investigate the customers’ experience of their supplier’s performance.

He called on the regulator to set up a new customer reporting system for households to pass on their own stories, especially those who are vulnerable, and not just rely on energy firm bosses to share information with their regulator.

Shapps stated, “I am appalled that vulnerable customers struggling with their energy bills have had their homes invaded and prepayment meters installed when there is a clear duty on suppliers to provide them with support.”

“They need to refocus their efforts on their consumers, the British public, who are at the receiving end of this abhorrent behaviour.”

He added that the regulator should also listen to customers to make sure this treatment of vulnerable consumers does not happen again.

The regulator has been asked to toughen up their reviews, going beyond the company headquarters to find out what is really happening in people’s homes by hearing from them directly and engaging more with charities and other groups that represent consumers.

Currently, energy suppliers are required to provide Ofgem with information to demonstrate how they comply with the rules on supporting vulnerable consumers, on customers struggling to pay, and on the fitting of prepayment meters.

A number of suppliers announced they would suspend forced installations after being pushed by Ofgem to pause the practice while they reassure the regulator they’re complying with the rules.

However, just over a week ago, the Business Secretary launched a crackdown on the mistreatment of energy users by suppliers, asking them to voluntarily commit to stopping this practice.

He also demanded they share the number of warrants they’ve applied for in recent months and plans to publish the findings.

Energy and Climate Minister also met British Gas CEO Chris O’Shea and expressed his horror at recent reports.

He made it clear this kind of behaviour is unacceptable and urged O’Shea to take urgent steps to repair the damage done to British Gas’ reputation.

An Ofgem Spokesperson said they share the Secretary of State’s shock and have launched an immediate investigation and issued a legal order for British Gas to cease all warrant activities.

Ofgem stated, “What is clear is that the picture presented by companies may not accurately reflect what is experienced by customers on the ground.”

“Therefore, further reviews will cross-examine what we have had reported to us with direct reports from customers and wider stakeholders, and potentially those involved in delivery of services.”

The next Market Compliance Review of all suppliers will focus on Pre-Payment Meters and forced PPM installation and remote switching to PPM through Smart Meters. The regulator will not hesitate to take firm action where failings are found.

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