Shapps demands energy firms stop forced fitting of prepayment meters
The business secretary has demanded that energy suppliers stop forcing financially stretched households to switch to prepayment meters.
Grant Shapps has also vowed to “name and shame” the worst offenders.
It comes after an estimated 3.2 million people across Britain ran out of credit on their prepayment meter last year - the equivalent of one every 10 seconds - because they could not afford to top it up, according to Citizens Advice.
He has written to companies demanding they voluntarily end the practice of forcibly moving households on to more expensive pre-paid energy tariffs, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said.
Energy firms should first make greater efforts to help those struggling to pay their bills, such as offering credit or debt advice, Mr Shapps told them.
He also asked suppliers to reveal the number of warrant applications they have made to forcibly enter properties to install meters.
Ministers have been urged to impose a moratorium on the forced fitting of prepayment meters, with Labour promising to take the measure.
But the government is resisting such a ban due to concerns over a subsequent increase in bailiff action.
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Mr Shapps said: “Suppliers are clearly jumping the gun and moving at-risk customers on to prepayment meters before offering them the support they are entitled to – I simply cannot believe that every possible alternative has been exhausted in all these cases.
“I am deeply concerned to see reports of customers being switched to prepayment meters against their will, with some disconnected from supply – and quite literally left in the dark.
“Rather than immediately reaching for a new way to extract money out of customers, I want suppliers to stop this practice and lend a more sympathetic ear, offering the kind of forbearance and support that a vulnerable customer struggling to pay should be able to expect.”
Some people have found their smart meters switched to prepayment mode remotely while others have been confronted at their door by teams sent by energy companies – armed with magistrates’ court warrants – to physically make the change.
Campaigners say those switched often then go without power as they cannot afford to keep the meter topped up – something that is referred to as “self-disconnection”.
It comes after energy bills have soared due to rampant inflation and the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Citizens Advice welcomed the government’s call for energy suppliers to stop forcing people on to prepayment meters.
Head of energy policy Gillian Cooper said: “It’s now up to suppliers to do the right thing and end this practice. If they don’t, the government must step in with stronger action. It’s also vital further protections are brought in for people already using prepayment meters.”