With the concern of rising energy bills comes an unwelcome reality for many of us. The increased usage of gas and electricity often translates to higher bills. This adds an extra layer of stress in the face of the already high cost of living. Unfortunately, for some, balancing these essential costs is impossible, and therefore leads to debt build up. For those in energy debt, suppliers can reclaim money by force-fitting or remote switching credit meters to prepayment meters. Scottish Power, EDF and Octopus are the initial suppliers announcing they will restart this process from January 8th 2024.
Customers need to be aware that suppliers in certain situations have the authority to transition you to a prepayment meter if you have an outstanding debt with them. However, this potential move comes into play only if the debt persists for a minimum of three months and exceeds the £200 threshold. It’s also reassuring to know that suppliers are obligated to explore payment solutions with customers before resorting to the switch. Not merely a transaction; it’s a collaborative effort to find a resolution during the complexities of energy debts.
Safety takes precedence in this narrative. A prepayment meter can only be installed if it is deemed safe to do so. So, while the challenges of energy debt may seem daunting, understanding your rights and the regulations set forth by Ofgem is crucial in navigating this landscape.
How Ofgem Protects You?
Recent Ofgem regulations have introduced an additional layer of protection for all consumers. Suppliers are now required to make a minimum of 10 attempts to contact a customer before installing a prepayment meter. So, if your supplier is force-fitting a prepayment meter without initiating any contact with you, that’s certainly questionable. Adding to this safeguard, suppliers must conduct a site welfare visit to ensure your well-being and safety.
Now, you might be wondering what happens if your household falls under the high-risk category? For instance, if there are young children or individuals with serious health conditions living in the household. To your relief, Ofgem regulations provide protection against the forced fitting of prepayment meters if you or someone in your household requires a continuous energy supply for health-related reasons or is dependent on powered medical equipment. Additionally, prepayment meters should not be fitted if your household includes:
- Occupants aged 75 and older, lacking additional support.
- Children under the age of two.
- Anyone with a terminal illness or severe health conditions.
- No individual with the capability to top up the meter due to physical or mental incapacity.
Neil Kenward, Director for Strategy at Ofgem, underscores the commitment to protecting vulnerable consumers. ‘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,’ he stated.
Certain circumstances demand a closer examination before proceeding with a prepayment meter. This includes situations involving children under 5, individuals with serious medical conditions, mental health challenges, and temporary life events like pregnancy or bereavement.
Ofgem’s Strategy Director ensures that the regulatory framework is closely monitoring suppliers’ behavior to ensure compliance with the spirit and letter of these rules. He further warns of action if suppliers are not adhering to the rules, which is a relief for all of us.
Hazel Knowles, Energy Project Lead at Advice Direct Scotland says, “We know this winter will be challenging for many. The restart of involuntary PPM action will add to this stress. We want to encourage people not to worry alone, we are here to help and can give free practical advice on dealing with energy affordability and debt.”
Can Your Supplier Simply Show Up And Install A Prepayment Meter?
The clear answer is no; they cannot. As mentioned earlier, the suppliers must consider multiple factors before fitting a prepayment meter. In addition to those factors, they must obtain a warrant, ensuring due process. However, if you have a smart meter, it can be switched remotely to prepayment mode without the need for a warrant. A site welfare visit is also crucial, and installers should be equipped with audio or body cameras for transparency. Once the warrant and site visit are completed, suppliers can proceed unless evidence is found that contradicts the criteria for fitting or switching the prepayment meter. It is also the responsibility of the supplier to give you a credit of £30 and maintain contact after the installation of prepayment.
Is Switching Back From Prepayment To Credit Meter Possible?
Wondering what might happen if you are able to clear the debt after the installation of a prepayment meter? Well, you’re not alone in that thought. If you’ve had a prepayment meter installed and have successfully cleared the debt, you can have a chat with your supplier. They will provide you with the option to switch back to a credit meter. Of course, there’s a catch – they’ll need to delve into your credit history first. If your credit history is fine, you are good to go.
Unhappy With The Decision or Feeling Process Wasn’t Fair?
If you believe that your supplier has force-fitted a prepayment meter without considering the regulations set by Ofgem, you have every right to raise a complaint directly with your supplier. energyadvice.scot can help you if you are struggling to reach your supplier, or cannot come to an agreement with them. If needed, we can also help you to raise a case with the Energy Ombudsman. The team is available Monday to Friday 9- 5. You can contact us by calling 0808 196 8660, or by going to https://energyadvice.scot/ and using our live chat or contact form.
Our team can assist with any energy-related issue, including situations of forced fitting of prepayment meters. So, don’t worry. If you find yourself in trouble, give us a call 0808 196 8660, and let us help.