Children’s Commissioner Nicola Killean has urged Ofgem to reconsider its decision to once again allow pre-payment meters to be forcibly fitted in homes – telling its Chief Executive that Ofgem “can choose to either mitigate or contribute to poverty.”
This month, the energy regulator gave permission for three companies – EDF, Octopus Energy, and Scottish Power – to restart force-fitting pre-payment meters where households have fallen behind on bills. Families have also been hit by an increase in the energy price cap, allowing companies to charge more per unit of energy.
Nicola Killean, Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, warned Ofgem Chief Executive Jonathan Brearley that these decisions negatively impact children’s rights and risk pushing children further into poverty.
In her letter, she said: “I am disappointed that Ofgem has made these decisions and urge you to consider the severe impact they will have, particularly coming so close together, on the lives of children and young people.
“Experiencing poverty can severely affect a child’s development and have a negative impact on their rights to mental and physical health, education, family relationships, standard of living, aspirations and life chances – both in childhood and adult life.
“Poverty is a […] consequence of decisions made by the UK and Scottish Governments, and those with the power to effect change. As a regulator, you hold an economic lever and can choose to either mitigate or contribute to poverty.”
The Commissioner’s office has previously pushed for Ofgem to ban all force-fitting of pre-payment meters and welcomed Ofgem’s decision to stop all forced meter installations last winter. The latest decision to lift that for three companies is a retrograde step and comes at a time when the price cap has been raised.
Ofgem has also issued new rules around the practice of force-fitting meters. But Ms Killean warned that the guidance fails to fully protect children from “the risk and consequences of energy disconnection”.
The Commissioner also criticised the decision to raise the energy price cap, warning the average household bill will increase by £94 a year. She urged Ofgem “to consider and respond to broader social concerns which result from energy price rises”.
Ms Killean added: “As I have noted before, energy price rises risk pushing more children into poverty, and those children already in poverty into destitution.”
She has asked Ofgem for a detailed response to her concerns by 12 February, including its consideration on:
- the impact on children’s rights of force-fitting pre-payment meters,
- whether the pre-payment meter guidance protects those with smart meters from disconnection, and
- why companies are only prohibited from force installing pre-payment meters in households where there is a child under two years old.