THREE energy companies have been granted approval to resume force-fitting domestic prepayment meters, nearly a year after this was suspended.

Ofgem confirmed on Monday 8 January 2024 that EDF, Octopus and Scottish Power have been given permission to restart involuntary prepayment meter (PPM) installations.

Energy suppliers use mandatory PPMs for customers who have built up debt. Before a forcible installation, companies will be required to comply with the following rules:

  • Making at least 10 attempts to contact a customer before a prepayment meter is installed.
  • Carrying out a site welfare visit before a prepayment meter is installed.
  • Refrain from all involuntary installations for the highest risk customers (the ‘do not install’ category) including:
  • Households which require a continuous supply for health reasons, including dependence on powered medical equipment,
  • Households with an older occupant (aged 75+), without support in the house.
  • Households with children aged under two years,
  • Households with residents with severe health issues including terminal illnesses or those with a medical dependency on a warm home (for example due to illness such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis, sickle cell disease).
  • Suppliers must also assess the suitability of a PPM when one of the below disabilities/characteristics/conditions is a factor:
  • Children aged five and under.
  • Other serious medical/Health Conditions (such as neurological diseases (Parkinson’s, Huntingdon’s, Cerebral Palsy), respiratory conditions (COPD) and mobility limiting conditions (Osteoporosis, Muscular Dystrophy, Multiple Sclerosis).
  • Serious mental/developmental health conditions (such as clinical depression, Alzheimer’s, dementia, learning difficulties, Schizophrenia).
  • Temporary situations (such as pregnancy, bereavement).

Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) is deeply concerned, as the charity’s data reveals that demand for advice on fuel debt rose by 34 per cent from 2021/22 to 2022/23. Meanwhile, the average energy debt for individuals seeking complex debt advice across the Citizens Advice network is £2,307 – up nearly £500 compared to the same time last year.

Analysis from CAS also found that more than 360,000 people in Scotland are worried about their debt to energy suppliers.

Responding to the news that suppliers can restart the forced installation of prepayment meters, Citizens Advice Scotland Social Justice spokesperson Emma Jackson said: “Suppliers being given the green light for forced installations will add to significant worry people who are behind on their bills and in fuel debt already have.

“Data from across the Citizens Advice network sees demand for advice in fuel debt rising, which the average debt being £2,307. People find themselves in debt because costs are too high and incomes are too low. That’s why we urgently need to see a social tariff in the energy sector.

“For some PPM customers, energy is viewed as a luxury they can only afford in the first week or two of the month, and they then go without until the next payday. Our CAB advisers see firsthand the very real toll that going without energy has on people’s physical and mental health.

“We need a permanent ban on mandatory PPMs, whether that is physically installing them in people’s homes or remote switching a smart meter. The current code of practice doesn’t go nearly far enough and is riddled with loopholes.

“The threshold [at] which suppliers agree to not install meters is too high – for example households with children and many pensioners remain at risk from forced installations.

“Guidance needs to be understandable and clear so advice and advocacy bodies can achieve the right outcomes for consumers and suppliers understand their requirements. We have provided information to Ofgem to outline a number of concerns where more clarity is needed – it also means we can’t properly flag compliance concerns if we don’t understand the requirements.”

* More information from Ofgem here.

* Sources: Citizens Advice Scotland and Ofgem