Vitality suppliers criticised over leaving cash-strapped households with out energy

Ofgem has advised power suppliers in Britain to scrub up their act after it obtained alarming reviews of cash-strapped households being left with out energy for days and even weeks after being pushed on to a prepayment meter.

A latest evaluation by the worth comparability web site Uswitch confirmed the variety of individuals on a prepayment meter was rising for the first time since 2019 with 1000’s of Britons being switched each month as they wrestle to pay greater power payments.

Charities have warned that this apply dangers “disconnection by the again door” when households can not afford to high up their meter. Residents Recommendation lately stated extra individuals had been unable to high up their prepayment meter within the first 9 months of this yr than in the entire of the earlier three years mixed.

By means of its monitoring of suppliers and work with stakeholders Ofgem stated it had turn into conscious of “potential failings in how some suppliers deal with susceptible good meter customers, together with some clients being switched to prepayment meters with out full regard to the client’s scenario”.

“In excessive circumstances the reviews we’ve obtained counsel this has led to some susceptible clients being left with out energy for days and even weeks,” an Ofgem spokesperson stated. “That is fully unacceptable, particularly as we head into a really difficult winter.”

Ofgem’s retail director, Neil Lawrence, has written to suppliers telling them to “urgently” examine the matter. The letter reminded them of their obligations to clients and that they should have efficient checks and balances in place when switching the mode of a sensible meter. The regulator wouldn’t “hesitate to take motion off the again of this work the place failings are discovered”.

The indicators of rising client misery observe a latest determination taken by the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, to roll again former prime minister Liz Truss’s pledge to freeze power invoice rises, decreasing help from two years to 6 months.

The plan gives a £2,500 cap on the annual worth of the everyday dual-fuel invoice till the top of April. After that time, help might be provided solely to essentially the most susceptible individuals, with forecasters predicting {that a} typical family would face an increase in power prices to greater than £4,300 a yr.

There have been 7.38m properties utilizing pay as you go meters within the first quarter, up from 7.35m within the last three months of final yr, based on the Uswitch report that checked out Ofgem knowledge. Primarily based on present developments it expects 10,000 meters to be converted to prepayment every month.

What alarms campaigners is the hazard of individuals “self-disconnecting. “Forcibly shifting individuals in debt on to prepayment meters is disconnection by the again door,” stated Gillian Cooper, the pinnacle of power coverage at Residents Recommendation. “If individuals can’t afford to high up, they’re at actual threat of the heating going off and the lights going out.”

Ofgem stated it had been wanting extra broadly at how suppliers help susceptible clients total, similar to these with disabilities. This work included how persons are handled when they’re switched to prepayment meters and the outcomes of this work could be printed quickly, with rankings awarded for every provider.

“We count on enchancment plans to be delivered at velocity and received’t hesitate to take punitive motion the place wanted. Requirements of service throughout the trade want to enhance,” Ofgem added.

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