Ofgem has told energy companies to suspend forced prepayment meter installations after it was revealed British Gas had used debt collectors and forced their way into prepayment customers’ homes. The energy regulator has asked all suppliers to review their use of court warrants to enter peoples homes.
Prepayment meters force customers to pay for their electricity in advance by either putting money on a card or online, rather than the standard bill at the end of the month. And while prepayment meters often are more expensive than normal debit card payments, it is used with customers who have struggled to pay their bills in the past and who are in debt with energy companies.
Ofgem boss Jonathan Brearley said he had ordered the review in order to “uncover poor practice” and that he was prepared to take the “strongest action in our power” if needed. And since the Times’ investigation was published, several energy providers have announced they are suspending the installation of prepayment meters.
Brearley said no energy company could "shirk their legal and moral responsibilities to protect their own customers, especially the most vulnerable".
When asked about British Gas, he said it’s "astonishing for any supplier not to know about their own contractors’ behaviour, especially where they are interacting with the most vulnerable in our society".
"We are opening a comprehensive investigation into British Gas on this issue and we will not hesitate to take the strongest action needed.”
Since the discovery, Chris O’Shea of Centrica, who owns British Gas, has announced they are suspending forceful installation until at least after the winter. Providers EDF have also announced they’re stopping, while Ovo Energy said they suspended their installations in November and Octopus Energy said they are not currently doing any installations and rarely ever did.