MPs call for ban on forced installations of prepayment meters

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MPs have called for a ban on forced installations of prepayment meters amid fears that elderly and vulnerable people are being effectively cut off from heating and power supplies.

Prepayment meters (PPM) are under the spotlight as thousands of warrants allowing forced installations are being issued while households struggle with a rise in the cost of energy.

Energy firms can apply to force a customer on to a PPM if they have racked up debts. The devices have to be fed regularly with payment cards, and charge for energy at a higher rate, meaning people in debt often “self-disconnect” by not topping up.

The Scottish National party MP Anne McLaughlin said: “I support the cause to have a moratorium on forced installation.

“It’s morally repugnant that companies can do that to people and they abdicate responsibility by calling it self-disconnection. As if the person has any agency over it: if you don’t have money, you don’t have any agency over it.

“The government needs to introduce an immediate moratorium to make sure nobody is cut off over Christmas and new year and we can sort out the entire mess of the treatment of people on prepayment meters after recess.” Parliament goes into recess for the festive period from Tuesday and returns on 9 January.

Prepayment meter graphics

McLaughlin has sponsored a private member’s bill that requires energy companies to allow a grace period before disconnecting customers with prepayment meters who have run out of credit, granting them extended emergency credit for six months.

Rachael Maskell, the Labour MP for York Central, said: “A moratorium [on forced installations] makes sense. If people aren’t paying their bills, there’s a reason. And the energy companies should be sympathetic to that and inquire if people are finding it hard.”

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Maskell said her constituents had told her they were burning wood from fallen trees and planning to eat a tin of food a day heated on portable gas hobs to save energy this winter. “It’s worrying to hear people talking about taking themselves off the energy grid. This is 21st-century Britain,” she said.

“We know that elderly and disabled people are high consumers of energy, or people who aren’t in work and are spending more time at home. So the poorest people are having the harshest treatment.”

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There are also concerns that people on PPMs are not receiving government energy support through vouchers as they are either lost, delayed or unclaimed. The MPs’ calls come after fuel poverty campaigners also demanded a ban on forced PPM installations.

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Ministry of Justice data shows that 490,388 prepayment meter warrants have been granted in England and Wales since July 2021, including 321,213 from 1 January to 8 November this year.

The data reveals a small group of magistrates courts have granted the bulk of the warrants, with Portsmouth granting by far the most, ahead of Basildon and Leeds.

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Earlier this month the i newspaper reported that one court had signed off 496 utility warrants in only three minutes and 51 seconds.

Citizens Advice has said the number of people contacting its services who are unable to afford prepayment meter top-ups is higher this year than in the previous six years combined.

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