Islington Council halts prepayment meter installation following complaints

A pre-payment energy meter   (PA Archive)
A pre-payment energy meter (PA Archive)

A London council has reportedly paused the forced installation of prepayment meters following fears that some residents will be left without heating.

Residents in Hathersage Court in north London complained after learning prepayment tariffs would be put in place as temperatures plummeted to -10C in recent weeks.

The Guardian reports that Islington council halted the scheme – which had been due to launch on January 23 - and will “provide an opportunity to discuss the different billing options available” following the complaints.

Prepayment meters have attracted criticism because, as a “pay as you go” method of paying for gas and electricity, they can leave vulnerable families at risk of running out of credit – and the lights going out – in the winter.

With bills rising at a rapid rate, paying for energy in real time means customers’ payments are heaviest in the coldest and darkest months of the year and cannot be spread out as with a monthly direct debit.

The meters can also be used by suppliers to collect debt, with an amount owed deducted from each top up and leaving people with less money for their daily needs.

Paula Beattie, who has lived in the housing block for eight years, told the paper: “It was a complete shock to find we were being moved on to prepayment. I encouraged others to switch because it would be fairer to pay for what we use rather than a set sum. Then the council told us this month it would be prepay.

“I’m concerned it will be extremely costly and I’ll be cut off automatically once I go over the £5 emergency money.”

Based on Ofgem average usage rates for one bedroom flats, residents calculated that they would pay £480 a year more than a typical flat dweller for usage, and nearly £70 more in standing charges.

Larger flats would pay £720 more than the average in Great Britain, they said. The installations have been handled by heat network specialist Switch 2.

Una O’Halloran, Islington council’s executive member for Homes and Communities, said the council had told residents of the decision to move to prepay last summer but also apologised and pledged to improve communications.

She said: “The government is making all councils install heat meters in homes connected to communal heating systems that meet certain criteria. There are two options available – prepayment and monthly credit billing.

“We have listened to residents’ concerns at Hathersage Court about the way they pay for their heat in future, and while we discuss these options with them, we are pausing the implementation of the scheme so we can fully address any concerns.”.