Energy suppliers are banned from force-fitting prepayment meters in vulnerable households. Find out what this means for you.
Energy suppliers are banned from forcibly installing prepayment meters (PPMs) in homes of those aged over 75 or with children under two.
This came after energy regulator Ofgem made suppliers sign up to a code of practice around forced prepayment meter installations in April 2023. It means suppliers can be fined if these rules are broken. It followed an investigation by The Times, which revealed British Gas debt agents were breaking into the homes of vulnerable people to install pay-as-you-go meters.
In the light of that expose, there had also been a temporary blanket ban on forced installations until suppliers could prove to Ofgem they could comply with the new rules. In January 2024, Ofgem gave the green light to energy firms to once again install PPMs in people’s homes. Octopus Energy, EDF and Scottish Power were said to have satisfied the conditions outlined by the practice, which became effective in November 2023.
Wondering if your home is affected by the new rules? We’ve all the info below.
Why were forced prepayment meter installations banned?
Prepay meters are where you pay in advance for your energy. Suppliers have traditionally installed PPMs into the homes of those in arrears as a way of recovering the debt.
Forced prepayment meter installation were temporarily banned last year after an investigation by The Times. It found that debt collectors working for British Gas were breaking into people’s homes and force-fitting PPMs during the peak of the energy crisis, affecting many vulnerable customers.
What are the new Ofgem 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 10 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 previously 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?
At the time of reviewing the restrictions on forced prepayment meter installations, Neil Kenward, Director for Strategy at Ofgem said the following:
“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.”
Need help with energy bills?
We’ve a full round-up in our energy bills support guide, but there are also several other government options out there that you may be eligible for.
It’s worth checking to see if you can qualify for them, because they may take some of the strain off your budget.
- Warm home discount: a £150 discount on your winter energy bill if you meet certain criteria.
- Cost of living payments: the first two instalments of £300 haves been paid, with the third payment of £299 due to be paid in February 2024.
- Cold weather payment: pays £25 a week to people claiming certain benefits or other support when the average temperature in their area is zero degrees celsius or below over seven consecutive days.
- Winter fuel payments: between £250 and £600 is available if you receive the state pension. How much you get depends on your age and circumstances.
- Household support fund: your local council may be able to give you financial support. See who your local council is with this government portal.