The move is following allegations that third-party agents ignored the vulnerabilities of customers and broke into equipment to install it.
British Gas suspended court warrants for prepayment meters installation after it was revealed that its agents had ignored customers’ vulnerabilities.
MPs and consumer groups raised concerns about elderly and disabled persons being forced to use prepayment meters and then cut off from heat/power as they couldn’t afford to top it up.
After an investigation by The Times, Arvato Financial Solutions (a company British Gas used to collect debts) had entered homes to install meters. There were also signs that children and persons with disabilities were living in the home. AFS employees receive bonuses for fitting prepayment meters.
British Gas customers who had their meters installed by force recently included a woman aged 50 with severe mental health bipolar disorder and a mother with a daughter who is disabled and uses a hoist and an electric wheelchair, according to the Times.
Grant Shapps (business secretary) said he was horrified by the results of the investigation. He has requested an urgent meeting with British Gas. Ministers will be “demanding answers” to address this systemic failure, he said.
Chris O’Shea is the chief executive officer of British Gas, Centrica. He stated that protecting vulnerable customers was a top priority. We have clear policies and processes to ensure customer debt is managed safely and carefully. We immediately stopped warrant activity in response to the allegations against Arvato, our third-party contractor.
The Guardian reported last month, that British Gas had stopped remotely switching customers to prepayment meters via smart meters. O’Shea stated that he was extremely disappointed by the situation. He had recently reviewed his internal processes and created a PS10m fund to help prepay customers in need.
“We made a decision on Wednesday to suspend all prepayment warrant activity until at least the end of winter.
Arvato Financial Solutions stated to the Times that it had acted in compliance with all regulatory requirements at all times.
Ofgem, the energy regulator, is looking into prepayment meters used by suppliers. Jonathan Brearley, Ofgem’s chief executive, stated that Ofgem was looking at how to close the gap between energy bills for customers who use prepayment meters and customers who use direct debits. However, he defended suppliers who had forced people to use meters.
Ofgem also stated that it would launch an investigation. “These are very serious allegations made by the Times and we will immediately investigate with British Gas. We won’t hesitate in taking firm enforcement action.”
It is unacceptable that any supplier would impose forced installation on vulnerable customers who are struggling to pay their bills. This is without thorough checks to make sure it is safe and practical.
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