Kept in the dark - The urgent need for action on prepayment meters
Last September, Citizens Advice published Out of the cold, which warned of thehardship facing people on prepayment meters through the winter and called for awinter moratorium on the forced installation of prepayment meters. Since then,we have continued to raise concerns about the way that the cost of living crisisand unprecedented increase in energy prices has made keeping the lights andheat on unaffordable for millions of people.
New nationally representative polling commissioned by Citizens Advice uncoversthe true scale of the problem, and confirms that our concerns were well-founded.● More than 2 million people are being disconnected from their energysupply at least once a month.● 1 in 5 (19%) prepayment customers who had been disconnected from theirenergy supply in the past year said they had disconnected for more than 24hours at least once.● 1 in 3 (33%) people on prepayment meters said that they had disconnectedat least once in the past year because they could not afford to top up. Thisequates to more than 3 million people, or 1 person every 10 seconds.
At the same time, Citizens Advice frontline advisers have consistently seenevidence of people in vulnerable circumstances being moved onto prepaymentmeters, in breach of energy supplier regulations. We continue to see evidence ofthese practices even after the regulator wrote to suppliers in mid-November toremind them of their obligations.
Our polling exposes the consequences of the failure to effectively enforce theseregulations: Over 130,000 households including a disabled person, or someonewith a long-term health condition, are being disconnected from their energysupply at least once a week because they can’t afford to top up.
The situation is so acute that we are now calling for a total ban on the forcedinstallation of new prepayment meters until additional safeguards are putin place to end self-disconnection. This ban must include legacy prepaymentmeters and remote switches for smart meters. We will take forward further workto define what these safeguards should be in collaboration with industry, Ofgemand Government.
And it’s not enough just to look at people being newly moved onto prepaymentmeters when there are already millions of people who are struggling to top uptheir meter. We are also calling for a review of all users of prepaymentmeters, with a commitment to replace them with credit meters where thisis necessary to remove the risk of disconnection.