Thousands have been pushed onto prepayment meters this year due to energy bills skyrocketing to record levels, as the country faces the biggest shock to living standards in 60 years. Those on prepayment meters pay for their energy before using it. If they cannot afford a top up, they are forced to go without gas or electricity entirely.
Charity worker Nathalie Madron told The i she had to call the police when her neighbour told her three men were in her house.
She said: “So I called 999, they got over there and I had to cycle back home.”
Ms Madron said that when she got home, she discovered a prepayment meter had been installed. She said they had also left a note, informing her she now needed to pay £20 per week on the meter to repay her debt, on top of paying for her usage.
The charity worker is in the process of disputing a £700 bill issued by Scottish Power shortly after she switched to them after her last energy provider collapsed. She added she had received letters warning her someone would come to change her meter, but was “so stressed” about her fight against the bill that she did not read the letter properly.
Scottish Power has been asked by Ms Madron to provide the warrant they used to enter her property, but they have yet to provide it. She said she finds it “disturbing and uncomfortable” that they entered her house, and does not know how they managed it.
Energy companies are legally able to obtain warrants to enter someone’s home and install a prepayment meter if that person has fallen into debt. According to The Big Issue, over 187,000 such warrants have been issued to energy companies in the first half of this year by courts in England and Wales.
For smart meters, this can be done remotely. Customers are not allowed to be put on a prepayment meter, however, if they are vulnerable, such as having a long-term illness or disability – but a diabetic man told The i that precisely this had happened to him, leaving him at “huge risk of serious illness or even death”.
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James Collins from Bradford needs his fridge running for him to store his insulin. On August 11, he received a letter from Scottish Power dated August 6, informing him his smart meter would be switched to pay as you go the next day.
He said Scottish Power was aware of his illness because he was on the network’s priority services register – a list kept by energy companies to provide extra support to those in vulnerable situations. Mr Collins also sent a letter to Scottish Power after his meter was changed to alert them of his illness, in which he said: “I’m a grown man and after getting no help from yourselves … I cried and this has repeated every time I think of this issue. I can’t cope with this, it’s too much to bear on top of everything else in my life.”
He says he was advised over the phone that he should be able to keep his insulin out of the fridge for a period of time. Jane Tully, director of external affairs and partnerships at the Money Advice Trust, said: “Given the current circumstances, it is not right that people already in financial difficulty could be left paying more and at risk of self-disconnection through the forced installation of a prepayment meter.
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“Ofgem need to act to protect households in or at risk of difficulty with their energy bills. This needs to include ensuring suppliers treat customers fairly and temporarily halting disconnections and forced installation of prepayment meters for debt.”
A Scottish Power spokesperson said: “We have been in touch with Mr Collins and this situation has now been resolved. Mr Collins wanted to pay via credit rather than pre-payment. To facilitate this, it has been agreed that he will pay his current balance off in order to have the mode of payment changed back to credit. Mr Collins is happy with this resolution and we can confirm that he is on the Priority Services Register.
“Regarding Ms Madron’s complaint, we can confirm that we are investigating this as a live enquiry. We are progressing this as quickly as we can and will be in contact with Ms Madron with any updates in our investigation.”