What are the new rules suppliers have to follow to force-fit a prepayment meter?

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Ofgem has released a set of new rules governing when energy suppliers can break into someone’s home to fit a prepayment meter.

It is intended to extend extra protections to households, especially those where vulnerable people live.

Why has the energy industry regulator done this and what does your supplier now have to do before they are able to fit a prepayment meter in your home?

What is a prepayment meter and why have some suppliers been force-fitting them in homes?

A prepayment meter does what it says on the tin – it means you have to pay up front for the gas and electricity you use. If you don’t have credit on your meter you can’t turn your lights or heating on.

If someone is not paying their energy bills, then suppliers want to fit them with a prepayment meter so they don’t use energy they are not going pay for later.

The industry switched to doing this as an alternative to simply cutting off the supply of someone not paying their bills.

Why has Ofgem changed the rules?

The watchdog stepped in after a huge public outcry when the practises of some subcontractors working for British Gas were revealed.

There had been reports for some time that suppliers were entering people’s homes without due care, but the issue became a hot topic after a Times investigation.

How many times will my supplier try to contact me before force-fitting a meter?

Your supplier must make at least 10 attempts using different communications channels, such as email, post and phone calls.

They must try to figure out a different solution with you, such as putting you on to a payment plan.

If they only have your postal address then “the full 10 attempts may not be undertaken to avoid harassing the customer”.

The supplier must have also tried to visit your home before progressing to install a prepayment meter under warrant, although if they knock and do not get an answer they can still proceed.

Your supplier should not force-fit a prepayment meter unless there is someone in the home who is both mentally and physically capable of topping it up.

This means people over 85 with no support should not have a prepayment meter force fitted, nor should households which require a continuous supply of energy for health reasons.

This can include people who use stair lifts, heart or lung ventilators, dialysis equipment or refrigerated medication, among other things.

Suppliers are not banned from force-fitting a prepayment meter in households where there are children under five or people over 75 in the home, but must in those cases perform case-by-case assessments.

The same applies for households where people have serious conditions including Parkinson’s, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, dementia, or when they are pregnant or undergoing bereavement.

“We also encourage suppliers to consider whether a (prepayment meter) is safe and reasonably practicable for any household with adults over 65 and/or children under 16,” Ofgem said.

When can a supplier force-fit a pre-payment meter?

Your supplier has to wait at least three months after issuing a bill to force-fit a prepayment meter.

You must also owe more than £200 per fuel that you get from the supplier – so both gas and electricity if you get both.

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