Campaign Collective urges ban on forced prepayment meters in Energy Bill

As part of its work with the End Fuel Poverty Coalition and Warm This Winter, Campaign Collective is urging people to contact their MPs to push for a ban on the forced installation of prepayment meters (PPMs).

According to new figures from the Warm This Winter campaign, almost three-quarters of the public would back changes to the Energy Bill to ensure the Government can ban the forced transfer of homes onto prepayment meters.

Half of the public believe there should be a permanent ban of the forced transfer of households onto prepayment meters to ensure they pay off their energy debts, with a further 23% backing a ban while energy bills stay high.  

The Energy Bill, which had its second reading in the House of Commons on 9 May, currently makes no provision for a ban. This is despite almost two-thirds (62%) of the public being very or somewhat concerned by the PPMs scandal which rocked the energy industry earlier this year.

An investigation by the i paper revealed the extent to which energy firms were using the courts to gain warrants to enter people’s homes to force them onto PPMs. Throughout the investigation, energy firms assured campaigners, ministers, MPs and the media that these meters were not used on vulnerable customers. However, The Times undercover investigation into British Gas’ use of PPMs proved this was not the case.

Energy firms have recently signed up to a new voluntary code of conduct, designed to govern the forced installation of prepayment meters. This is due to come into force from 1 October 2023, but the End Fuel Poverty Coalition argues that the guidelines do not go far enough, failing to protect highly vulnerable groups and failing to help to tackle rising energy debt. 

Simon Francis, Campaign Collective founder member and coordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, commented:

“During the PPMs scandal, the Secretary of State claimed that he did not have the power to ban the forced transfer of households onto PPMs. We would urge politicians to back moves to give the Government these powers to safeguard the most vulnerable from this inhumane process.”

An amendment to the Energy Bill to give Ministers the power to ban forced PPMs is due to be tabled by Anne McLaughlin MP, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Prepayment Meters. The SNP MP for Glasgow North East commented:

“The energy firms have lost all respect for Ofgem and they’re running circles around them. If they do breach Ofgem rules, they’re happy to take a slap on the wrist and pay the fines.

“The 18th April Voluntary Code of Conduct to prevent the forced installation of prepayment meters doesn’t go far enough, so we need the power to properly regulate energy firms and safeguard vulnerable prepayment meter customers handed to the Secretary of State for Energy Security & Net Zero.

“The Energy Bill gives us a unique opportunity to do this in legislation, and I’m urging the UK Government to back any amendment that will allow this to happen.”

Liberal Democrat Peer, Lord Teverson, who attempted to introduce a PPM amendment during the Energy Bill’s earlier stages said:

“There is nothing more frightening than to have someone invade your home and force changes on how you run your life. 

“That is what having your energy meter changed to prepayment can mean for ordinary families already under stress from high energy costs. The Energy Bill could fix this if the ministers willed it.”

Labour MP for Liverpool Walton Dan Carden added:

“In the middle of the worst cost of living crisis for fifty years energy companies were breaking into the homes of impoverished and vulnerable customers. 

“It is clear that throughout last winter, energy companies felt as though they could act with impunity – indeed, there can be few clearer examples of how our energy system is rigged against struggling families in favour of unscrupulous suppliers. 

“The Government must now use the Energy Bill to ban the forced transfer onto prepayment meters in order to protect families in the future from suffering the same inhumane practices – it is the Government’s decision to make.”

Plans for an amendment to the Bill to ban forced PPMs are backed by the End Fuel Poverty Coalition and the Warm This Winter campaign, which last week started a mass action to persuade MPs to support amendments that would help to improve Britain’s broken energy system.

Jonathan Bean from Fuel Poverty Action, which is part of the Warm This Winter campaign, said:

“We were promised no return to the bad old days of forced PPMs.  But there is a serious threat of more trauma and suffering this winter unless a permanent ban is put in place. MPs need to act now to protect their constituents.”

Eva Watkinson from Debt Justice said:

“Forcing people in debt onto pre-pay meters adds to the shame, stigma and trauma that they often experience. This disgusting practice must now be banned by the government and unpayable debts written off. ”

Tessa Khan from Uplift added:

“The Energy Bill is back in the House of Commons, but right now, it’s a missed opportunity to start fixing our broken energy system.”