Energy suppliers will soon be permanently banned from forcibly installing prepayment meters in your home if you’re aged over 75 or have children under two.
More households will be protected as energy regulator Ofgem’s current code of practice has been broadened and will become mandatory from 8 November. If suppliers break these rules, they will be fined.
Suppliers have traditionally installed prepay meters – where you pay in advance for your energy – into the homes of those in arrears as a way of recovering the debt. However, back in April, Ofgem made suppliers sign up to a voluntary code of practice around the forced installation of prepay meters.
It followed an investigation by The Times that found debt collectors working for British Gas were breaking into people’s homes and force-fitting prepayment meters during the peak of the energy crisis.
Ofgem announced this week that the conditions of the code will now be legally enforceable from 8 November and apply to energy firms and any contractors. Previously, this rule applied to those aged 85 and above, or households with severe physical or mental health issues. However, Ofgem has lowered the upper age limit and included homes with very young children.
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What are the new guidelines?
Ofgem has set out the following in its new code of practice. Suppliers must meet these conditions before a PPM can be involuntarily installed:
- Make at least ten attempts to contact a customer
- Carry out a site welfare visit
- Avoid all installations for high-risk customers including:
- Households which require a continuous supply for health reasons, including dependence on powered medical equipment.
- Households where all occupants are aged 75 years and over if there is no other support in the house – it was 85+.
- Households with children aged under 2 years old.
- 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.
- Supplier representatives must wear auditable audio or body cameras on all installations to check for vulnerabilities.
- Provide a short-term £30 credit per meter (or equivalent non-disconnection period) on all warrant installations and remote switches. This removes the risk of customers going off supply during PPM meter installation.
- Review the case after debt repayment to assess if a PPM is still the most suitable and preferred choice for consumers. If any customer is cleared of debt and wishes to move, the supplier must agree. This is after carrying out successful credit checks.
What does Ofgem say?
Neil Kenward, Director for Strategy at Ofgem said: “Protecting the most vulnerable consumers is at the heart of what we do, and this decision not only cements the protections Ofgem put in place for people deemed most at risk, it goes further to protect the most vulnerable households.
“Prepayment meters are an important payment method that help millions of households to manage their energy bills. But they are not suitable for everyone.
“Today’s enhanced rules are there to provide protection from bad practice while ensuring that when needed, and as a matter of last resort, suppliers are using involuntary installations in a fair and responsible way.
“Ofgem will be monitoring suppliers’ behaviour closely to ensure they are complying with the spirit and letter of these rules. If that is not the case we will not hesitate to take action.”