Elderly man left without heating for days after being moved to prepayment meter

Smart Meter display showing the cost and amount of electricity used in a day
Thousands of Britons have had their energy payment plans switched without their knowledge via their smart meter. (Getty)

A pensioner lived for days with no heating or hot water after being forcibly switched to a prepayment meter for his energy without his knowledge.

The elderly man, who thought he was experiencing a power cut when his energy was cut off, is one of thousands of people to be moved to a prepayment meter by their energy supplier without their consent, on even awareness.

The story was shared by energy regulator Ofgem as an example of the harm inflicted by energy suppliers.

Head of Ofgem Jonathan Brearley said: "During our review of how supplies treat some of the customers we heard directly from an elderly gentleman who thought he'd had a power cut because he not been told that he'd been switched over to a prepayment meter.

"This meant he spent days without light or heat, not knowing what was happening.

"At any time, but particularly in this cold weather, this is obviously unacceptable."

The UK's cost of living crisis has seen utility bills rocket in recent months.

As customers fall behind on their bills, energy companies are forcibly moving users onto prepayment meters.

Prepayment meters work on a pay-as-you-go basis, meaning households have their energy shut off if they are not able to top up.

Brearley said he was concerned about the “sharp growth in households struggling to pay their bills being switched over to prepayment meters, sometimes without their even knowing about it, leaving them without heating”.

It follows Business Secretary Grant Shapps’ demand over the weekend that energy suppliers stop forcing financially-stretched households to switch to prepayment meters.

Britain's Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary Grant Shapps leaves after attending the weekly Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street, in London, on January 10, 2023. (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images)
Grant Shapps has vowed to 'name and shame' energy companies penalising their most vulnerable customers by switching their billing methods without warning. (Getty)

He also vowed to “name and shame” the worst offenders.

Brearley said a review by the regulator last year of firms’ processes for dealing with the most vulnerable customers resulted in legal orders to improve.

He said Ofgem would be undertaking a more detailed assessment to check if the plans had actually led to improvements.

He said: "It is simply not acceptable that vulnerable customers are left in the dark and cold in winter.

“This review will focus specifically on self-disconnections, remote switching and forced installations, and the checks and balances companies have around any decision to put a customer on a pre-payment meter.

“If we find that they have not taken due care in this process, we will take further legal action against them.”

MIDSOMER NORTON, UNITED KINGDOM - DECEMBER 15: Smoke rises from chimneys on the roofs of houses in Midsomer Norton, on December 15, 2022 in Somerset, England. Large parts are currently experiencing an artic blast with snow and ice bringing widespread disruption. The UK is currently facing a cost of living crisis, as inflation hits a near-30-year high, the war in Ukraine puts pressure on food prices and rising energy bills squeeze household incomes still further. To add to the misery, many UK households face a further rises in home energy prices as energy price caps are raised (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
Hundreds of thousands of UK homes have had their energy switched to prepayment schemes, leaving many without heating or hot water for days. (Getty)

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On Sunday, Shapps said energy firms should first make greater efforts to help those struggling to pay their bills, such as offering credit or debt advice.

Of the hundreds of thousands who have been switched to prepayment plans in the past year, some have found their smart meters switched to prepayment mode remotely while others have been confronted at their door by teams sent by energy companies – armed with magistrates’ court warrants – to physically make the change.

Campaigners say they often then go without power as they cannot afford to keep the meter topped up – something that is referred to as “self-disconnection”.

Tom Marsland, from disability equality charity Scope, said: “For over a year we have been regularly hearing from disabled people who have been forcibly moved on to prepayment meters because they could not afford the rising costs of energy. But prepayment meters are not the answer for disabled people who are freezing in their homes, or parents who are going hungry to feed their children.

“The government must now ban energy companies from forcibly putting customers on to pre-payment meters, which is cutting off lifesaving heating and electricity for disabled customers."