Adam Scorer calls for 'targeted financial support' on energy bills
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The charity is sounding the alarm that 3.2 million people across the country ran out of credit on their prepayment meter last year. This is the equivalent of one person every ten seconds being cut off from their energy supplier, primarily due to being unable to top up their credit. Energy bills for those on prepayment meters are more expensive than the average due to the lack of regulatory protections for households which use them.
Families are sharing their struggle with the rise in the cost of living and the issues that arise with lack of credit for prepayment meters. One woman named Rona shared how her home experienced, what she believed was, a power cut one evening just before Christmas.
Stuck in debt, Rona has a daughter with special educational needs and has struggled to keep up with her rising energy bills, turning to Citizens Advice for help.
She explained: “I had no way to make any calls, so my daughter and I were left in the dark all night with no heating, lights or means of making any food. I was really anxious.
“I went to my local Citizens Advice when the power didn’t come back on the next morning. They spoke to my supplier and found out they’d switched my smart meter to prepayment mode.
“I explained that I was on the priority services register. I also said I’m in a wheelchair and unable to access my meter, but none of it made a difference. I’m now reliant on my sister or her husband to go to the post office to help me top up my meter.
“Over Christmas I went without energy because the credit ran out, and the post office was closed, so my daughter and I sat there cold, in the dark. How can I live like this?”
According to Citizens Advice, over two million people are being disconnected at least once a month and 19 percent of prepayment meter customers who were cut off in the past year then spent at least 24 hours without gas or electricity.
The charity is calling for a ban on the forced installation of prepayment meters into homes by energy suppliers.
Notably, the consumer watchdog is concerned about disabled Britons and people living with long-term health conditions.
Some 18 percent of households, including many within this demographic, who ran out of credit in 2023, went on to spend two days or more without energy.
Dame Clare Moriarty, the chief executive of Citizens Advice, broke down what needs to be done to better support vulnerable households with a prepayment metre.
She said: “All too often the people finding it hardest to pay their bills are being forced onto a prepayment meter they can’t afford to top up. This puts them at real risk of being left in cold, damp and dark homes. The staggering rise in the cost of living means many simply cannot afford to heat and power their homes to safe levels.
“New protections are needed to stop people being fully cut off from gas and electricity. Until then, there must be a total ban on energy companies forcing those already at breaking point onto prepayment meters. If Ofgem doesn’t act, the Government must intervene.”
Overall, Citizens Advice has witnessed a 229 percent rise within the past year in the number of people reaching out for assistance due to being unable to pay their prepayment meter.
Using figures from Ofgem, the charity forecasts that 600,000 people were pushed onto a prepayment meter because they were unable to afford their energy bills in 2022.
On top of this, Citizens Advice predicts that 160,000 more people could be moved onto a prepayment meter by the end of winter if something is not done soon.
Under existing Ofgem rules, Ofgem, vulnerable groups, such as disabled people, should not be forced onto a prepayment meter by suppliers.
An Ofgem spokesperson said: “Customers in vulnerable circumstances being left without power for days or even weeks is completely unacceptable and we take this issue extremely seriously.
“Suppliers must follow strict rules when installing prepayment meters and need to have exhausted all other options, particularly when a warrant is required to enter a vulnerable customer’s home.
“Ofgem has already taken action against suppliers through our compliance and enforcement action, including our recent review into how energy suppliers treat vulnerable customers. We will consider the findings in this report and take further action as necessary.”
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