The UK power regulator Ofgem is to research suppliers forcibly switching weak prospects to prepayment meters.
Jonathan Brearley, chief govt of Ofgem, mentioned on Monday that the regulator didn’t have authorized powers to utterly ban compelled installations of prepayment meters however it will look at firms’ “checks and balances” and act in opposition to those that “don’t take due care”.
Most prospects pay for his or her energy after use however power suppliers can pressure individuals on to costlier pay as you go meters after they fall behind with common funds.
The quantity of people that have been moved on to prepayment tariffs has risen sharply as they grapple with hovering power payments and the price of dwelling disaster.
Brearley’s feedback got here after Grant Shapps, the enterprise secretary, informed suppliers over the weekend that they need to voluntarily finish the apply of switching households to prepayment metres or face being “named and shamed”.
Talking at an occasion held by the Institute of Authorities think-tank, Brearley additionally known as for a “critical evaluation” of a less expensive social tariff for low-income households, which might imply these which can be least capable of pay are charged a cheaper price for his or her energy.
Present guidelines require suppliers to discover the monetary assist on supply or perform acceptable assessments earlier than they’ll forcibly set up prepayment meters or remotely swap a family’s good meter to a pre-pay tariff.
However Brearley mentioned some individuals have been being moved “with out even figuring out about it”. He cited an instance of a buyer in Glasgow who “left to go on vacation and returned to seek out he’d been switched to pre-pay with out his information and had no option to prime up”.
“Though there may be good apply in lots of locations, no firm got here by means of [in initial investigations] while not having to enhance and all have been required to submit plans to satisfy the requirements we set,” Brearley mentioned.
The federal government has launched an power value assure scheme geared toward limiting a typical family invoice to about £2,500 a 12 months till the top March, and to round £3,000 till spring 2024.
Though wholesale fuel costs have been falling, Brearley mentioned it was unlikely that costs would return to pre-pandemic ranges and that new approaches have been wanted in Britain’s power sector.
Shapps has written to power suppliers telling them they don’t seem to be doing sufficient to assist weak households and must be providing credit score or debt recommendation, with pre-pay installations a final resort.
Residents Recommendation, the buyer foyer group, mentioned final month that 3.2mn individuals throughout the UK ran out of credit score on their prepayment meter final 12 months as a result of they may not afford to prime up.
One in 5 prepayment meter prospects final 12 months spent at the least 24 hours with out fuel or electrical energy, leaving them unable to show the heating on or prepare dinner a scorching meal, the group discovered.
Power UK, which represents the business, mentioned: “Suppliers are already required to have exhausted all different choices earlier than putting in a prepayment meter by warrant.
“Solely after repeated unsuccessful makes an attempt to contact the client to debate compensation choices and supply assist and after checks to make sure they don’t go forward when prospects are in essentially the most weak conditions.”