“We need to go further than a moratorium on forced installation of prepay. Many prepay meters are in rented properties both social and private. Why would we continue to allow landlords to install them before residents move in?”
Jack Sargeant AM
At the start of December, I began to call for a ban on the further installation of prepay meters. Nearly everyone will know that these are the meters that mean people are pay as you go for their energy, put simply if you can’t pay you are cut off.
This constant threat hangs over customers and obviously causes significant anxiety. It is made worse by the fact that prepay energy users pay more for their energy. Prepay meters are often installed when people fall into debt this points to the fact that they are the most financially vulnerable.
The point I was raising when I called for a ban was that in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis and in winter should we be installing meters that leave people cut off from energy to make it easier for suppliers to collect debt? Add to this the significant evidence that the checks that are supposed to be in place to stop people who are unwell to be switched are clearly not taking place.
Only this week I had two conversations that underscored this point, one with a fuel poverty charity who talked of people being switched by on mass court orders with clearly no individual checks.
Another chat with a resident who lived with someone who was seriously ill with a condition that required them to have the heating on constantly, they have been switched to a prepay meter.
I was delighted this week to read Labour shadow cabinet member Ed Milliband call for a moratorium on the future installation of prepay meters, this is light years ahead of where the Tories are. It was Labour showing that they will put residents before the profits of energy companies.
There are still some significant questions to be asked. Many people have been forcibly switched and our in a daily mess because of it. Getting switched back can be expensive, one resident who is not in debt and wants rid of their prepay, as it is costing them a lot more, was quoted £150 by their supplier.
Another issue is the system for complaining if you have already been inappropriately switched. At the moment you have to complain to your supplier and then wait eight weeks, if you don’t get the appropriate response, you can then take it to the Energy Ombudsman. It should be obvious to all of us that this service will be overwhelmed now.
So even if you are a powerful advocate for yourself, best case scenario is it won’t be this winter. For people who are suffering with poor physical or mental health this is extremely dangerous.
So, it is my view we need to go further than a moratorium on forced installation of prepay. Many prepay meters are in rented properties both social and private. Why would we continue to allow landlords to install them before residents move in when we know the risks this winter while so many are so financially stretched? Further, why aren’t the energy companies bearing the charges of switching residents back?
Finally, more must be done to support people – prepay or not nobody should be cut off this winter. Our energy market is completely broken and time and again we are given examples where it only serves the interest of the suppliers.
I have written to the UK Government asking for action on prepay meters and as I said on a tv interview just before Christmas – this could be a matter of life and death this winter.