26th May 2015
Over half a million pre-payment energy meters have been forcibly installed in homes over the last six years, BBC Radio 5 Live has found.
The energy watchdog Ofgem told the BBC it would investigate after the data for England, Scotland and Wales was revealed.
When customers get into debt with their energy bills, suppliers may apply for a court order so that they can install a meter.
Citizens Advice says meters offer customers a “raw deal” as they end up paying an average of £80 more every year than direct debit customers.
It can be difficult to shop around when you have a pre-paid meter.
Energy UK, the body representing suppliers, says that the meters help some customers to budget.
Ofgem says:“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.”
The watchdog has told energy suppliers that they should be doing all they can to support customers struggling to pay.
This includes the provision of energy efficiency advice, signposting to social support and setting any outstanding debt repayments on the meter at an affordable level.
It says customers struggling with debt should talk to their supplier as soon as possible.
Suppliers are required to treat customers fairly.
Ofgem says it is looking into reasons behind the increase in the number of pre-payment meters installed for non-payment of debt on a warrant visit.
It says: “Ofgem is committed to supporting vulnerable consumers. We are working with Citizens Advice and industry to further improve the experience of prepayment customers and to better identify and protect customers who are self-disconnecting. We want to make it easier for prepayment customers to switch supplier as this could help them better manage their bills. We will also formalise suppliers’ current voluntary practice of allowing PPM customers with a debt of up to £500 per fuel to switch, by making it an obligation.
“Suppliers should demonstrate when applying for the warrant that they have carried out appropriate checks for vulnerability. If for example the customer relies on energy for medical reasons, or has mobility problems that limit their ability to access the prepayment meter or top up the meter, the supplier is not allowed to install a prepayment meter.”