One of the most senior judges, Lord Justice Edis, has issued an order to stop issuing warrants to force fit prepayment meters in England and Wales amid concerns over vulnerable customers.
Despite expressing worries before Christmas, the courts had approved more than 30,000 warrants since the beginning of the year.
After a Times investigation revealed that a debt agency that was working for British Gas was breaking into the customers’ homes and fitting the meter while disregarding their vulnerabilities, the energy regulator for Great Britain, Ofgem, requested all companies to halt the forced installation of prepayment meters.
In a statement to magistrates, Edis, who oversees the working of all courts, stated that they were required to “act proportionately and with regard to the human rights of the people affected, [in] particular any people with vulnerability”.
He continued: “However, it has now come to light that Ofgem has become sufficiently concerned at the operation of suppliers as to ask all energy companies to suspend forced installation of prepayment meters.”
“In light of that, applications for warrants of entry for the purpose of installing a prepayment meter should, with immediate effect, cease to be listed and no further such applications are to be determined until further notice.”
Warrant applications could still be made by the firms, however, details of their procedure, especially concerning the vulnerability of people in the household, were lacking, Edis continued.
Lifting the moratorium would depend on the results of the government’s and Ofgem’s inquiries into the matter, he said.
However, concerning commercial cases, the ruling will not affect the application for warrants “or for other purposes including the investigation of theft or tampering, or safety.”
Ofgem confirmed that it would look into how prepayment customers are handled to eliminate the cost difference between direct debit customers, who pay less for energy, and prepayment customers. It will also look into social tariffs supporting low-income households.
The business secretary, Grant Shapps, has laid charges against Ofgem of “having the wool pulled over their eyes” by energy company bosses. He gave a deadline of Tuesday for the companies to report actions taken, including compensation, to assist consumers who may have had prepayment meters improperly installed in their homes.
Responding to a Labour urgent question in parliament on Monday, the energy minister, Graham Stuart, stated: “Since these reports came to light we have acted swiftly and we won’t hesitate to go further to protect consumers. The secretary of state has called for more robust Ofgem enforcement on these issues as well.”
As per the figures released by the Ministry of Justice, last month 32,790 warrants were issued, 6,360 of which were issued in the week after Shapps requested that suppliers only install prepayment meters as a last option.
Expressing concerns through Citizen Advice regarding customers who may be switching on to prepayment tariffs through smart meters remotely.
Shapps has been charged with “sitting on his hands” during the crisis by Labour. Ed Miliband, the shadow secretary for climate change, stated on Monday: “Energy companies forcing their way into people’s homes, millions getting disconnected by the back door, no proper windfall tax on fossil fuel profits – this is Britain under the Tories, there is no one else to blame, it’s long past time they got a grip.”
Stuart stated that Ofgem will determine how long it will take to effectively prohibit the installation of prepayment meters.
- Published By Team Timeswire