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Ofgem investigates rise in forced meter installation

Could you be forced to have a pre-payment meter?

Smart meter

Thousands more pre-payment energy meters have been forcibly installed in people’s homes in recent years.

Ofgem, which supplied the figures in response to a freedom of information request from BBC Radio 5 Live, said it’s ‘looking into reasons behind the increase’ and added that installing pre-payment meters under warrant should be used as a ‘last resort’.

The BBC said the figures showed about 97,000 pre-pay gas and electricity meters were installed in England, Wales and Scotland last year under warrant.

Pre-payment meters usually cost more per unit than standard meters – so if you’re on one, you will pay more for your energy. If there is no credit in the meter, there is no energy supply to your home.

Find out what you can do if you can’t pay your energy bill

Prepayment customers pay more

A Which? investigation earlier this year found that pre-payment customers can pay up to £180 more a year for exactly the same tariff, just because they pay in advance.

We found that on Co-Operative Energy’s Pioneer variable tariff you would pay £1,176 by monthly direct debit, but the same tariff would cost you £1,356 if you’re on a pre-payment meter for the same energy use. Co-operative Energy told us it is working to improve its systems, and as soon as it’s able to reduce the cost of serving its prepayment meter customers, it will review its prices.

The number of installations was highest in 2013, when we found a combined total of over 600,000 pre-payment meters had been installed. The figures released to the BBC reveal 111,000 of these were forcibly installed under warrant.

Ofgem estimate that around one in six customers in Britain are now on pre-payment meters.

Last resort when consumers get into debt

An Ofgem spokesman said: ‘Installing pre-payment meters under warrant should be used as a last resort by energy suppliers when consumers get into debt.

‘It is a way to prevent a customer from being disconnected. Suppliers can only install a prepayment meter where it is safe and reasonably practical for the consumer to use.’

Ofgem added that it’s  looking into why more pre-payment meters are being forcibly installed. 

A spokesman for Energy UK, a trade association for the energy industry, said: ‘Suppliers only install pre-payment meters at warrant as a last resort to help customers manage their debt. Pre-payment meters can help customers manage their budget where paying on a monthly or quarterly basis is not suitable for them.’

Can I reject a pre-payment meter?

If you have a pre-payment meter, you pay for your energy up front – instead of by quarterly bill or monthly direct debit. But no credit in the meter means no energy supply to your home.

If you want to switch back to a standard meter, you will usually have to clear any debt and satisfy certain conditions. 

You’ll usually have to pay more for energy with a pre-payment meter, but the supplier must treat you fairly. 

Suppliers should also do all they can to help those struggling to pay with energy efficiency advice, sign posting to social support and setting any outstanding debt repayments on the meter at an affordable level.

If you don’t think your supplier has treated your fairly, you’re within your rights to make a complaint.

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