According to the government, Scottish Power, British Gas, and Ovo were accountable for 70% of the compulsory installations.
In 2022, UK energy companies utilized warrants to forcibly install 94,000 prepayment meters, with Scottish Power and British Gas being the highest contributors, as per government records.
The government has been keen on dissociating itself from the practice of compulsory prepayment meter installations, which are generally employed by energy companies for customers who have defaulted on payments previously.
The practice of forced installations has received special attention during the energy crisis, which ensued from the lifting of coronavirus pandemic restrictions and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, leading to a significant price hike and causing two million English households to experience fuel poverty in 2022.
In February, the UK government reached an agreement with suppliers to cease forced prepayment meter installations, citing concerns that rules safeguarding vulnerable households were being disregarded. Ofgem, the energy regulator for Great Britain, recently informed MPs that a prohibition on forced installations would continue until a code of practice is established.
The government stated that three suppliers, identified as “the most overzealous”, were responsible for 70% of forced installations. These were Scottish Power, owned by Iberdrola of Spain, British Gas, a subsidiary of Centrica, a FTSE 100 firm, and Ovo, which took over SSE’s home energy business in 2019.
According to the government, Scottish Power was the worst offender with 24,300 installations, equivalent to over 500 installations per 100,000-meter points. The data, labelled “Not. Good. Enough.” was released by the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, and Energy Secretary Grant Shapps described the numbers as “horrifying.”
Citizens Advice’s head of energy policy, Gillian Cooper, stated that the “stress, anxiety and hardship” caused by mandatory prepayment meter installations cannot be overstated. She urged Ofgem to ensure that the current ban is not lifted without stronger protections in place and advised suppliers to review all customers on prepayment meters to ensure they are a safe option.
The number of compulsory installations reached its peak at 112,000 in 2013 but declined after Ofgem acted to limit them following over one million installations from 2007 to 2019. Prior to the pandemic, installations had fallen to 84,400 in 2017, 71,000 in 2018, and 67,000 in 2019.
On Monday, the energy department disclosed that 2.1 million vouchers had not been claimed under the government’s energy bills support scheme. This initiative, announced by then-Chancellor Rishi Sunak in February 2022, provided £400 to each UK household. While most customers received automatic support, non-smart prepayment meter users required vouchers and had to claim the assistance manually, frequently by post.
Receiving support has been problematic for many individuals, with the final vouchers for March expiring 90 days later. The 2.1 million unclaimed vouchers represent approximately £140 million that has not reached their intended beneficiaries, including some of the UK’s most vulnerable households.
According to the government, Scottish Power, Ovo, and British Gas have over 400,000 unclaimed vouchers each.
Grant Shapps, the Energy Secretary, stated that the latest figures reveal the widespread nature of forced prepayment meter installations, with an average of over 7,500 monthly forced installations last year. While prepayment meters are suitable for certain individuals, Shapps expressed apprehension that companies have been treating their customers unfairly, particularly during a difficult winter when the government paid around half of the average household’s energy bill to help families.
Centrica declined to comment, while Scottish Power and Ovo were requested to provide comments.
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