Ofgem considers fining firms and making them compensate customers over forced prepayment meter installations
The energy regulator is consider fining firms and making them compensate customers if they did not follow rules around the installation of pre-paid meters.
Ofgem has called on energy suppliers to check their recent forced and remotely installed prepayment meter installations and consider compensation in cases where rules were not followed. Suppliers should also consider removal in such instances, the watchdog said.
A pause on the installation of prepayment meters was ordered until 31 March by Ofgem following an investigation by The Times. The meters had been forcibly installed by British Gas via warrants to prevent indebted customers from amassing further debts.
Meters must be topped up online or with a card at post offices and some shops. If those payments are not made the household is cut off.
The pause in installing prepayment meters must be used by firms to proactively check they have been installed correctly. If that is the case, the companies should consider removing them and offering compensation where appropriate, Ofgem said.
As part of its investigation into the forced installation of pre-paid meters, Ofgem said it will check energy firms actions but suppliers should not wait until then to rectify any potential installation rule breaks.
"I'm telling suppliers not to wait for the outcome of our reviews and to act now to check that PPMs have been installed appropriately, and if rules have been broken, offer customers a reversal of installations and compensation payments where appropriate," said Ofgem's chief executive Jonathan Brearley.
"There will also be fines issued from Ofgem if the issue is found to be systemic."
How do prepayment meters work and what are the rules around them?
British Gas: What you need to know about allegations prepayment meters were forced on vulnerable customers
The regulator's investigation will examine what further protections may be needed within the rules, regulations and guidance around prepayment meters, it said on Tuesday.
Views are being sought on how the industry can move away from the meters, with it looking into measures that could reduce the need for them.
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"The rules and regulations are clear that installing forced PPMs should only be done as a last resort and only where it is safe and practicable to do so," Mr Brearley said.
"We expect suppliers to treat customers with compassion and professionalism and those executing a warrant should take into account what they find when they visit a home and pause the installation if they see a safety risk.
"Where this hasn't happened, we will hold suppliers to account."