Concern over pre-payment meters
Scotland’s Children’s Commissioner Bruce Adamson has written to the regulator Ofgem to urge it to ban energy companies from all compulsory installations of pre-payment meters, a practice that leaves struggling families at severe risk of energy disconnection.
The Commissioner also expresses his grave concern that energy companies are still not effectively identifying vulnerable individuals to provide them, and any dependent children with the support that they desperately need.
In his letter to Chief Executive, Jonathan Brearley, the Commissioner writes: “The compulsory installation of a pre-payment meter where a family is already struggling to pay bills risks amounting to disconnection for all practical purposes.”
The Commissioner points to the increased risks to children’s right to life, health and development by the energy companies’ decisions and lack of effective identification, calling on Ofgem to urgently “take a more active regulatory approach, rather than a watching brief”.
In September, Commissioner Bruce Adamson wrote to the ‘Big 6’ energy companies to seek assurances on their support for vulnerable individuals as well as confirmation that they would not force families to have pre-payment meters installed over this winter. Only Centrica was able to give that assurance, and this was subject to a caveat that the customer was willing to engage with them.
Mr Adamson raises concerns with Ofgem that energy companies are even, in some cases, using smart meter technology to bypass the legal process of getting a court warrant, in order to install a pre-payment meter.
In his letter to Ofgem chief, the Commissioner states he is hugely concerned with the findings of its recently published Market Compliance Review (22 November) where Ofgem identifies many areas of weakness across energy companies, including that ‘financial vulnerability is not being identified consistently or early enough’ and that ‘Prepayment meters should not be installed or remotely switched without carrying out the appropriate safe and reasonably practicable assessment, including identifying any vulnerability’.
Commissioner Adamson writes: “I welcome the Compliance Review, and your intervention on pre-payment meters, but in light of the escalating risk to children’s rights to life, health and development, I do not think they go far enough. Nor do I think it is sufficient to address these matters at the level of individual cases or even suppliers. Ofgem needs to take a more active regulatory approach, rather than a watching brief.”
Ending his letter, the Commissioner urges Jonathan Brearley to amend the threshold for the priority services register from children under five years old to under 18; and to update its threshold for vulnerability to ensure that families who are most at risk are properly identified for support.
Notes to editors
- Audio clip below for use and Commissioner Bruce Adamson is available for interview.
- The Rights of Entry (Gas and Electricity Boards) Act 1954 gives energy companies the power to apply to the court for a warrant of entry for the purpose of compulsory installation of a pre-payment meter.
Below you can find a link to the letter as well as an audio clip for public use.