Energy regulator Ofgem orders halt to pre-pay meters being forcibly installed

After an investigation revealed that agents working for British Gas broke into the homes of vulnerable customers to install prepayment meters, the British energy regulator Ofgem ordered all suppliers to stop installing them.

Jonathan Brearley, chief executive of Ofgem, stated that energy suppliers must “reassure” regulators that their processes for moving customers onto prepayment meters are “compliant with all Ofgem regulations and, until such time, we have asked them not to suspend forced installations.”

The Times undercover reporter witnessed British Gas agents breaking into the home and fitting a prepayment meter to a father with three children.

In addition to the cases of vulnerable customers being fitted with such meters under court warrants, the investigation revealed evidence that other customers had also been served with such meters. This was despite Ofgem rules which stated that such devices cannot be forcibly installed in the homes of “very vulnerable” people.

Brearley stated that it was astonishing for suppliers not to have information about their contractors’ behaviour, particularly when they interact with the most vulnerable members of society. Ofgem launched an investigation into British Gas (Britain’s largest energy supplier).

British Gas owner Centrica’s chief executive Chris O’Shea apologised for the “deeply concerning” allegations against Arvato Financial Solutions. He also stated that it had stopped forcing instalments of British Gas until “at least the end” of the winter.

Citizens Advice, a consumer charity, has long demanded a ban to ensure that new customer protections can be implemented.

Customers pay for energy only after they use it. However, consumer groups have noticed a rise in suppliers that force households to prepay more expensively if they are in arrears.

Grant Shapps, business secretary, said that he summoned Centrica to meet with Graham Stuart, energy minister, after the publication of The Times’s investigation.

O’Shea spoke on Radio 4’s Today on Thursday. He called the practices discovered by the investigation “completely unacceptable” and “deeply concerning” and said that there was nothing that could be excused from the actions reported in The Times.

O’Shea stated that Centrica had requested an independent report to find out “the bottom of what went wrong”. O’Shea stated that the third-party contractor had “let us down”, but admitted that he was ultimately responsible.

Simon Francis, the coordinator for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition (a group of charities and local authorities, as well as trade unions), said that the government should also investigate the role played by the courts in issuing warrants to energy suppliers. According to government figures, more than 536,000 warrants have been issued between July 2021 & December 2022.

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