Energy companies accused of using smart meters for ‘disconnecting customers through the back door’

Energy companies have been accused of disconnection of households by moving them to smart meters for pre-payment to disconnect them “by the backdoor”.

Pre-payment installations via court orders or smart meters should be banned by the Government. This is to prevent customers from being forced to disconnect services from their existing systems after they are moved to more expensive ones.

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition is a coalition of 60 campaign groups and local officials. It warns that hundreds of thousands of households will feel the need to turn off their energy supply this winter without a ban.

The coalition warned that forcing households in debt onto PPMs will allow energy companies to bypass rules that would prevent them from disconnecting vulnerable persons from their supplies during winter.

Ruth London of Fuel Poverty Action, an advocacy group, stated that imposing PPMs onto customers is “disconnection from the backdoor” and places vulnerable households in serious danger.

“Imposing it” is violent and, in the current situation, it is likely that it will swell winter deaths,” Ms London stated.

Pre-payment meters are more costly than rolling monthly payments, and households end up using less energy.

End Fuel Poverty Coalition warned customers that energy companies are increasingly pushing them onto pre-payment meters to protect their revenue in the event of household failure to pay their bills. This newspaper has previously reported that some suppliers force customers to install PPMs remotely by switching their smart meters from credit mode to pre-payment mode.

Others have installed the devices by using court warrants. Campaigners claim that these warrants are being “rubber stamped” by magistrates’ courts, without being reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

According to Freedom of Information requests, 187,000 warrant applications were received in the first six months of 2022. End Fuel Poverty Coalition stated that this makes it difficult to believe these warrants are being individually considered.

Campaigners stated that energy firms should assess homes to ensure safety and that customers are informed of any changes.

Ofgem, the energy regulator, wrote to the suppliers earlier in November about “what appear to be serious failings in how suppliers treat vulnerable smart-meter consumers”.

Ofgem stated that smart meters switching from credit mode to prepayment mode without fully considering licence conditions has caused customers “serious harm”. It added that “most worryingly, some vulnerable customers have been cut off supply.”

Ofgem stated that prepayment meters should not have been installed or remotely switched without first assessing the vulnerability of households in accordance with suppliers’ license conditions.

However, members of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition reported that energy companies have continued to practice the practice.

Joe Cole of Advice for Renters, a tenant advocacy group, stated: “One client who has PTSD was switched from smart meter to prepayment without notice. He came close to suicide before we alerted the energy company and put his account back in credit.”

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