Energy suppliers have agreed to end the forced installation of prepayment meters in vulnerable customers’ homes, the government has said.
The move comes as an investigation revealed debt collectors working for British Gas forced their way into the homes of vulnerable customers.
An undercover investigation by The Times claimed a company used by British Gas to pursue debts, Arvato Financial Solutions, had forced their way into homes to fit the devices, despite signs children and disabled people were living there.
The paper also alleged that Arvato Financial Solutions employees were incentivised with bonuses to fit prepayment meters.
Last week, the energy regulator Ofgem asked suppliers to suspend the forced installation of prepayment meters and review their processes for dealing with customers who have fallen into arrears.
Grant Shapps, then business secretary and now energy secretary, also wrote to energy bosses insisting they revise their practices and improve action to support vulnerable households and make sure installing prepayment meters is a genuine last resort.
The data behind prepayment meters
As a response to this intervention, all energy suppliers have now committed to ending the forced installation of pre-payment meters, the government has said.
Meanwhile, an Ofgem executive has warned that British Gas will have to pay compensation to customers with force-fitted prepayment meters if an investigation confirms they were incorrectly installed.
Akshay Kaul, Ofgem’s director for infrastructure and security of supply, said customers would be able to request that their prepayments are removed and claim compensation, depending on the outcome of the regulator’s investigation.
“If prepayment meters have been incorrectly installed, that is not in compliance with the rules,” Mr Kaul told LBC.
“If that is what the investigation ultimately concludes then consumers have a right to have them uninstalled if that is what they wish and they have a right to seek compensation and that is what we will be asking any suppliers that are in that situation to do.”
He added: “I don’t want to prejudge the investigation and it is really important that we follow due process, gather all the evidence and consider whether this is an individual case.”
Probed as to whether energy suppliers would be “asked” or “told” to compensate customers, Mr Kaul replied: “If there are cases where there are inappropriate installations of prepayment meters, and those customers wish to go back to a standard meter, that is their choice and of course we will want suppliers to respect the wishes of those customers.
“To the extent that there is harm that has been caused to consumers then a standard enforcement principle is that we want suppliers to compensate, to offer redress to consumers for the harm that has been caused.”
Since the undercover investigation, British Gas announced that it has stopped force-fitting prepayment meters and apologised for the way some customers were treated.
Centrica, the owner of British Gas, said in a statement that “all warrant activity” had been suspended and that protecting vulnerable customers is an “absolute priority”.
Warrant activity involves the company applying to the court for a warrant to install a prepayment meter
Centrica boss Chris O’Shea has also launched an independent investigation, telling Sky News’ business presenter Ian King he felt “disappointed, livid and gutted” and that “there is no excuse” for what the undercover investigation uncovered.
Read more: British Gas – what you need to know about the allegations
Arvato Financial Solutions told the Times it “acts compliantly at all times in accordance with the regulatory requirements” and the findings did not represent the company’s views or its official guidance on how to interact with customers.
A spokesman told the paper: “If there has been any verbal or any other type of misconduct by individual employees, we deeply regret it.”