Major energy supplier halts prepayment meter installations over Christmas

BRAZIL - 2022/10/07: In this photo illustration, a woman's silhouette holds a smartphone with the OVO Energy logo in the background. (Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
The installation of prepayment meters has increased sharply during the cost of living crisis. (Getty Images)

One of the UK's largest energy providers has suspended the installation of prepayment meters over the Christmas period amid the worsening cost of living crisis.

Suppliers can force households on to prepayment metres for failing to keep up with payments, meaning many people using them are already struggling to cope with rising bills.

After falling for two years, in the six months to March 2022 60,000 new prepayment meters were installed, with Uswitch warning of 100,000 more prepayment meter installations in the next 12 months if the trend continues.

On Thursday, OVO Energy announced it will be suspending the installation of prepayment meters as a result of the soaring cost of living.

"To support our customers over the Christmas period we have paused all mode switching to ensure that we take every reasonable step to contact and support our customers," an OVO spokesperson said.

Read more: 'Plunged into darkness': The worrying rise in families on pay-as-you-go energy meters

The decision to pause installations follows an investigation by the i paper, which found 490,000 warrants had been issued by courts to install prepayment since July 2021.

End Fuel Poverty Coalition said the forced installation of prepayment meters "must end".

"How can justice be done when almost 500 court warrants are served on households in under four minutes?" the organisation said on Thursday.

"The scandal of energy firms using the courts to force people onto pre-payment meters must end."

The government energy price guarantee at its current level expires in April 2023 (Yahoo News UK/Flourish)
The government energy price guarantee at its current level expires in April 2023 (Yahoo News UK/Flourish)

In May, senior Labour MP Hilary Benn told Yahoo News UK consumers should have the right to energy in the same way they have a legal right to water, meaning it would be unlawful to cut off someone's supply.

OVO's decision comes amid growing pressure on the government to address the issue of prepayment meter customers not redeeming their £400 energy bill rebate - with 1.4m vouchers left unclaimed this winter, according to government data.

Read more: How to save money: 22 easy cost-cutting tips

National Energy Action, Which?, Citizens Advice, Age UK and Money Saving Expert expressed "serious concern" about the fact "vital" energy bill support wasn't reaching so many customers in a letter to business secretary Grant Shapps on Tuesday,

"We understand that this is a new, complex scheme that has been implemented quickly during a challenging time," the letter read.

"Nevertheless, we believe it is your responsibility, alongside government, to do everything you can to ensure this vital support reaches people as soon as possible."

The rise of prepayment meters comes as the cost-of-living crisis continues to deepen with inflation hitting 10.7% in the 12 months to November 2022.

More than 90% of people have noticed their cost of living increase according to recent data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), with disposable income expected to drop by 4.3% in 2023.

Research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has found seven million households are going hungry, cutting down meal sizes, skipping meals, going without showering, or going without adequate clothing.

Watch: UK artist can't afford to heat her home due to energy prices - in flat which gets so cold she can see her breath