New protections from forced prepayment meters
From Wednesday 8 November 2023, new Ofgem rules will protect more households from having a prepayment meter installed in their home, or their smart meter switched to prepayment mode without their consent.
Prepayment meters require you to pay for electricity before using it. This can be challenging for those struggling with energy bills.
Forced prepayment meter installations will also be banned for over 75s and those with young children.
For consumers, key benefits of the new regulations include:
- More households are protected from forced prepayment meter installs.
- Increased safeguards for households outside the “protected” category.
- Smart meter users get the same protections, so suppliers must comply with these regulations before remotely switching a smart meter into prepayment mode.
At CSE, we’re hopeful these regulations will remove some of the barriers to the widespread adoption of smart meters, a crucial step in the UK’s transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy sources.
The new Ofgem regulations not only expand the scope of households protected from forced prepayment meter installations, but they also consider additional vulnerabilities that energy suppliers must take into account when deciding whether to enforce payment collection.
Simultaneously, Ofgem will be making the code of practice governing forced installations mandatory. This means that energy suppliers must adhere to the rules included in the code. Failure to do so could result in enforcement action and substantial fines for the supplier.
Other key conditions outlined in the code of practice will continue to be in place from November 8, including the requirement for energy suppliers to conduct a vulnerability and affordability assessment before fitting prepayment meters in specific households not covered in the expanded vulnerable group list.
Moving off prepayment meters
Under these new regulations, your energy supplier must also allow you to transition from a prepayment meter to a credit meter once you’ve cleared your debts and passed any required credit checks.
Here’s the new rules in detail:
Broadened protected category
Suppliers must not install a prepayment meter* for:
- Households that require a continuous energy supply for health reasons, including dependence on powered medical equipment.
- Households where all occupants are aged 75 years and over (if there is no other support in the house).
- Households with children aged under 2 years.
- Households with residents who have severe health issues including terminal illnesses or a medical dependency on a warm home (for example due to illness such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis, or sickle cell disease).
- Households where no one is able to top up the meter due to physical or mental incapacity.
Suppliers must make a further assessment if any of the following apply: there are children aged 5 or under in the household, residents have other serious mental, developmental, or physical health conditions, or there is a temporary situation that makes residents vulnerable such as pregnancy or a recent bereavement.
New steps suppliers must take before enforcing a prepayment meter
- Make at least 10 attempts to contact a customer before a prepayment meter is installed*.
- Carry out a site welfare visit before a prepayment meter is installed*.
- Audio or body cameras must be worn by the lead supplier representative during all warrant installations or site welfare visits. All audio and video recordings will be available for audit.
- Give a £30 credit per meter on all warrant installations and remote switches as a short-term measure to remove the risk of customers going off supply at the point of PPM meter installation*.
- Re-assess the case once a customer has repaid debts owed. Suppliers must contact the customer to offer an assessment of whether a prepayment meter remains the most suitable and preferred payment method of choice for consumers. If any prepayment meter customer is clear of debt and wishes to move off their prepayment meter (understanding any changes in the tariff they will pay), the supplier must agree where the customer passes any required credit checks.
*Ofgem states that “references to the installation or removal of an Involuntary Prepayment Meter include the switching of any Electricity Meter to or from such a mode.” I.e. that each of these rules also apply to smart switches.
What to do if your supplier doesn’t follow these rules
If you believe that your supplier has not followed these rules you should contact them and:
- Raise a complaint. You need to make sure to get a complaint reference number and not let the customer service advisor close the complaint before the end of your call. After 56 days if the complaint hasn’t been resolved you can take it to the free Energy Ombudsman.
- Make sure your supplier knows all of your vulnerabilities, especially any of those listed above. Ask if you can be added to their priority service register.
- Follow our advice for debt on prepayment meters or debt on standard meters.
These new Ofgem regulations represent a significant step forward in protecting consumers from forced prepayment meters. They ensure that energy suppliers are held accountable and take into consideration the needs and vulnerabilities of their customers.
It’s important for consumers to be aware of their rights and, if necessary, to file complaints with the Ombudsman against any suppliers who disregard these essential rules.
This winter, millions of people will be unable to afford their energy bills or other essentials. At the Centre for Sustainable Energy, we’re working hard to provide energy advice to support more people to keep their homes warm. Please share this information with anyone you think it could help.