There has been a rising number of householders who have had their energy smart meters remotely switched to prepayment meters, leaving customers who need to top up at risk of running out of energy.
Prepayment meters are used by suppliers for customers struggling to pay their energy bills and have built up debt, so they can collect repayments over time. However, prepayments are around £70 a year more expensive and customers risk having their heating and power cut off if they run out of credit.
Ofgem’s rules state that energy companies must speak to customers before moving them on to a prepayment meter, but the regulator said it was concerned this was not always happening. Citizens Advice told the BBC that so far in 2022 almost 500 people have been in contact in distress after being forcibly moved onto prepayment – a 158% increase in cases in 2021.
Is this allowed to happen? What are your rights?
If you’re falling behind with your energy bills and finding yourself struggling to pay or building up debt on your account, the best thing to do is contact your supplier as soon as possible. Under rules from regulator Ofgem, your supplier has to help you – usually by negotiating a payment plan that you can afford.
If you’ve fallen behind on paying your energy bills, your supplier can force you to prepay to recover the debt that’s built up. It doesn’t need your permission to do this, and you don’t have an automatic right to refuse
Here’s when you can refuse to be moved onto a prepayment meter:
- Illness/ disability which means you would be harmed if your gas or electric was cut off
- If you can not get to your meter or you cannot top it up either because you can’t afford it or get to a shop
- You do not agree you owe them money and have told them this- debt came from a previous tenet
- They haven’t offered you other ways to repay money you owe
- They haven’t given you 28 days to repay your debt before writing to you to say they want to move you to a prepayment meter
If none of these reasons apply to you, your supplier is allowed to make you move to prepayment. If you don’t agree to this, they can get a warrant to enter your home and install an old-style prepayment meter or change your smart meter to the prepayment setting – this could cost up to £150. They’ll add the cost of the warrant to the money you owe them.
Your supplier must follow the correct process to put you on prepay
In addition to the energy price freeze, cost-of-living payments will still be paid out, make sure you’re receiving what you are owed.
Energy Bills Support Scheme
- Having a valid reason for the switch. This can include recovering a debt you owe the supplier after falling behind with paying your bills.
- Communicating clearly. Your supplier should tell you if it plans to put you on prepay, give its reasons for the decision and outline any other options you may have.
- Providing at least seven working days’ notice. If you’re on a smart meter, you shouldn’t find it being switched into prepay mode out of the blue.
- Taking into account whether you’re vulnerable. If so, and your vulnerability means it would be unsafe or impractical for you to be on prepay, the switch shouldn’t go ahead.
- Getting a court warrant (in some cases). This is only relevant where you have non-smart meters (so the supplier needs to physically install new meters) and you’ve refused to communicate with your supplier about a repayment plan.
What to do if you have been switched:
Unfortunately if your supplier has switched you to a prepayment meter and has followed the above steps and gone through the correct route, you cannot refuse the prepayment meter. If you’re struggling to pay to top up your meter or would like further support, please contact us and we can offer you the correct support and solutions: https://www.warmwales.org.uk/how-we-can-help-you/
If your supplier hasn’t followed the correct process or has put you on prepay when it shouldn’t have, you should raise a formal complaint. You can do this by contacting your supplier directly, or by using the free Resolver complaints tool (which covers most suppliers).
If you’ve already tried contacting the firm and it’s been more than eight weeks since you lodged your formal complaint (or you’ve received a deadlock letter), you can then take it to the free Energy Ombudsman, an independent body that handles disputes between consumers and energy firms.
If you would like support in rising a complaint, you can contact our community workers who can support you in the process through three-way calls and additional help. Contacts us via email: hhhpwarmwales.org.uk or call 01656 747 622
If you haven’t been moved to a prepayment meter yet, but are worried you are going to fall behind on payments always speak to your supplier as early as possible, they have to help you if you are struggling.
Our Community workers can also check and register you to the Priority Service Register. The PRS is a free support service for people in vulnerable situations and you can join through your energy supplier. This will ensure that you have an extra layer of protection as your supplier must consider your circumstances before switching you to a prepayment meter.
If your supplier is going to install an old-style prepayment meter, you can find out what to expect on the Citizens Advice website.
Check out our advice page for additional help and advice on your energy bills, or contact us for free and impartial support, our community workers are working to help ensure you live in a safe and warm home.
Contact Warm Wales
Our community workers are working to help ensure you live in a safe and warm home.