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Kept in the dark - The urgent need for action on prepayment meters

Kept in the dark - The urgent need for action on prepayment meters 1.21 MB

Last September, Citizens Advice published Out of the cold, which warned of the hardship facing people on prepayment meters through the winter and called for a winter moratorium on the forced installation of prepayment meters. Since then, we have continued to raise concerns about the way that the cost of living crisis and unprecedented increase in energy prices has made keeping the lights and heat on unaffordable for millions of people.

New nationally representative polling commissioned by Citizens Advice uncovers the true scale of the problem, and confirms that our concerns were well-founded.

  • More than 2 million people are being disconnected from their energy supply at least once a month.

  • 1 in 5 (19%) prepayment customers who had been disconnected from their energy supply in the past year said they had disconnected for more than 24 hours at least once.

  • 1 in 3 (33%) people on prepayment meters said that they had disconnected at least once in the past year because they could not afford to top up. This equates to more than 3 million people, or 1 person every 10 seconds.

At the same time, Citizens Advice frontline advisers have consistently seen evidence of people in vulnerable circumstances being moved onto prepayment meters, in breach of energy supplier regulations. We continue to see evidence of these practices even after the regulator wrote to suppliers in mid-November to remind them of their obligations.

Our polling exposes the consequences of the failure to effectively enforce these regulations: Over 130,000 households including a disabled person, or someone with a long-term health condition, are being disconnected from their energy supply 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 forced installation of new prepayment meters until additional safeguards are put in place to end self-disconnection. This ban must include legacy prepayment meters and remote switches for smart meters. We will take forward further work to define what these safeguards should be in collaboration with industry, Ofgem and Government.

And it’s not enough just to look at people being newly moved onto prepayment meters when there are already millions of people who are struggling to top up their meter. We are also calling for a review of all users of prepayment meters, with a commitment to replace them with credit meters where this is necessary to remove the risk of disconnection.