Following a freedom of information request from BBC Radio 5 Live, Ofgem have released figures showing that the number of forcibly installed pre-payment energy meters has gone up by around 50% since 2009, the year when these figures first became available.
Energy providers reserve to right to apply for a court order to allow them to forcibly install pre-payment gas and electricity meters in the homes of customers with large outstanding debts. When a customer has had one of these meters installed, they will find small amounts of the money they use to top them up taken away to work towards paying off their debt.
2013 saw the highest number of forced installations, with a combined total for gas and electric meters reaching around 111,000, and while this is roughly 10,000 more than 2014, it is still almost double the figure for 2009, which stood at 63,000.
As regulators of the energy market, Ofgem will now be ìlooking into reasons behind the increase in the number of PPMs installed for non-payment of debt on a warrant visit.î
Following the revelation that over half a million pre-payment meters have been forcibly installed over the last six years, Ofgem hope this investigation to reveal whether or not energy companies have been following their guidelines for correct practise. Ofgemís guidelines state that before forced installation of a pre-payment meter, the energy provider is ìobliged to help [the customer] and negotiate what is a fair rate of repaymentî and that they ìonly install a pre-payment meter where it is safe and reasonably practical for the customer to useî.
Audrey Gallagher, speaking on behalf of Citizenís Advice, has expressed concern that customers may end up ìtrappedî with these PPMs, unable to find better deals since on such a plan they ìcannot take advantage of the competitive energy marketî.
Energy UK, an umbrella company for UK energy suppliers, are not worried by the impending investigation, claiming that the meters are only being installed ìas a last resort to help customers manage their debtî, maintaining the legitimacy of the forced installations.
However, with pre-payment meters costing the consumer an average of £80 more per year than conventional energy tariffs, Ofgem hope to make sure that vulnerable customers are not being exploited by providers.
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