Forced prepayment meter fittings to be banned for over-75s and those with young children – here's what's changing
If you are aged 75 or over, or have a child under two, energy suppliers will soon be permanently banned from forcibly installing a prepayment meter in your home. It comes as the energy regulator's current code of practice is to be extended, and become mandatory, in a bid to protect more households. Firms flouting the rules, which will take force from 8 November, will face fines.
Below, we've outlined everything you need to know. If you're struggling to pay your energy bills, see our Energy bill help guide to find out if you're entitled to support and seek one-on-one help.
A ban on forced prepayment meter installations will be extended
In April, Ofgem introduced a voluntary code of practice banning energy suppliers from forcing prepayment meters – which require you to pay for your gas and electricity in advance – into the homes of certain vulnerable groups. The ban includes instances where smart meters are remotely switched to prepayment mode. The action came after an investigation by The Times revealed that some debt collectors working on behalf of British Gas were allegedly breaking into people's homes to install prepayment meters.
From 8 November, this group of vulnerable households – which covers those with chronic or terminal illnesses, as well as others – will also include households where there are:
- People aged 75 or over, where no one under 75 is living in the house. This is an increase from at present where the code covers people 85 or over, where no one under 85 is living in the house.
- Children under two.
A code of practice governing forced installations will also become mandatory from 8 November
The code of practice will also be added to all supplier's 'license conditions' on 8 November, meaning the conditions legally must be obeyed from this date. Firms that break these rules could face enforcement action and substantial fines.
Other conditions laid out in the code will continue to be in place from 8 November, including the requirement for firms to complete a vulnerability and affordability assessment to fit prepayment meters into certain homes not already outlined above and the need for firms to make at least 10 attempts to contact you before a prepayment meter is installed.
Your supplier must also continue to let you move off your prepayment meter if you've cleared your debts and passed any required credit checks to switch to a credit meter.
Had a prepayment meter installed against your wishes? You may be entitled to compensation
Forcible prepayment meter installations shouldn't have taken place since April. If you believe your supplier has installed one when it shouldn't have, you can contact your supplier to complain.
If you don't get a response, or you disagree with your supplier's response and it's been more than eight weeks since you lodged your formal complaint (or you've received a deadlock letter), you can then take it to the free Energy Ombudsman, an independent body that handles disputes between consumers and energy firms.
Suppliers are reviewing cases of forced installations that took place before April. They will need to offer compensation to households that had meters wrongly installed and allow these customers to move off their prepayment meters. Industry regulator Ofgem told us there isn't a set deadline for this – if you think you're affected and haven't heard anything, it's best to contact your supplier.