National & International

Energy firms admit not protecting most vulnerable

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According to the BBC.

A rising number of households are having their energy smart meters remotely switched to prepayment meters, the energy regulator has said.

Energy firms can use the technology to swap customers who are in debt to the more costly plan without needing their permission.

It can leave customers, who need to top up, at risk of running out of energy.

Ofgem said it had received reports of “vulnerable customers being left without power for days or even weeks”.

Kelly from South London told the BBC she suddenly found she “only had £3” left on her electricity meter until payday after being switched remotely.

‘Disconnection by the backdoor’

Once a smart meter is installed, it is a much simpler process for a supplier to swap the customer into prepay mode at the push of a button, rather than having to apply for a warrant and install a physical box.

Ofgem’s rules state that energy companies must speak to customers before moving them on to a prepayment meter, but the regulator said it was concerned this was not always happening.

Suppliers may put customers on prepayment meters if they struggle to keep up with bills, arguing it helps them to control how much and how often they pay for energy.

But Rosi Avis, who heads up the Manchester Branch of Citizens Advice, said remote switching is “disconnection by the backdoor”.

“If customers are unaware that they are on a pre-payment meter they might not top up and therefore they are more likely to self-disconnect from their gas or electric,” she explained.

According to Citizens Advice, around 500 people have contacted them in distress so far in 2022 after being forced switched to prepayment, a 158% rise in instances from 2021, according to the BBC.

It anticipates that 180,000 of the 450,000 customers who might be pushed onto a prepayment plan this winter will do so automatically via a smart metre.



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