Forced Meter Fittings a Shocking Power Play

In a surprising development, warrants have been granted to allow the forced fitting of prepayment meters in the UK. This decision comes following an uproar surrounding the practice, which had temporarily halted amidst reports of agents breaking into the homes of vulnerable people.

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A Shocking Scandal

The controversy began when The Times ran a story exposing the behaviour of British Gas agents who forcibly installed prepayment meters in the homes of customers with unpaid bills. This practice stirred up public outrage, raising questions about the ethics of energy companies resorting to these measures.

HM Courts Service also faced a wave of criticism for approving batches of applications from energy suppliers without proper scrutiny.

Ofgem Green Light Needed

Despite the recent warrants granted to Scottish Power to enter homes and fit prepayment meters, the resumption will only go ahead with the green light from energy regulator Ofgem. Energy providers must meet specific criteria before they can undertake involuntary meter installations, and as of now, a firm still needs to meet these conditions.

The pause in forced fittings has provided Ofgem with an opportunity to develop a code of conduct that outlines the requirements for energy suppliers. This code aims to ensure that providers act ethically and responsibly when dealing with customers who have unpaid bills.

Plugging into the Details

Scottish Power made 124 applications for warrants at Berkshire Magistrates Court in Reading. In each case, Scottish Power representatives presented evidence of unpaid energy bills, often exceeding £2,000. The company claimed to have made numerous attempts to contact these customers through various means, including letters, emails, texts and visits.

District Judge Samuel Goozee granted all applications but with a significant caveat. Judge Goozee forced Scottish Power to vow not to install the meters if there was evidence of a ‘high vulnerability risk’ in the household. Additionally, Judge Goozee mandated that an initial £30 must be credited to the prepayment meter upon installation.

Ofgem's Current Conditions

Ofgem has established clear conditions that suppliers must meet before they can proceed with involuntary prepayment meter installations. These conditions include:

  • An independent assessment

  • A commitment to identify wrongful installations with compensation offered

  • Satisfaction of company boards that all conditions have been met

  • The regular provision of monitoring data to Ofgem

Energy suppliers must also prove their ability to adhere to the code of conduct set by Ofgem, which becomes mandatory on Wednesday, 8th November 2023. Among the stipulations is the rule that firms must make at least ten attempts to contact a customer and conduct a site visit before forcibly fitting a prepayment meter.

Energising Exemptions and Safeguards

Under Ofgem's conditions, prepayment meters should not be fitted in households under specific circumstances:

  • If the customer is over 75 unless someone younger resides in the home

  • If the household has children under the age of 2

  • If anyone in the household has a terminal illness or a condition that could worsen in a cold environment

The fitter must also wear body cameras or audio equipment to ensure full transparency.

Campaigners Spark Outcry

Despite these regulations and safeguards, many campaigners are calling for a blanket ban on the practice of force-fitting prepayment meters. Such a ban would necessitate the intervention of Government ministers.

Simon Francis of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition said: "It is totally inappropriate for energy firms to be seeking to force their way into people's homes to force them onto dangerous prepayment meters that leave them at risk of disconnection and going without energy.”

Because the resumption of forced fittings is contingent on Ofgem's approval and compliance, the debate continues over whether such practices are justified and ethical. The decisions made in the coming months will undoubtedly have a significant impact on bill payers, particularly those struggling to keep up with payments.

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