Europe

Millions on prepaid energy meters ‘at breaking point’

Energy: Martin Lewis advises checking direct debits

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Ministers are being encouraged to stop the forced installation of payment meters after it was revealed that 3.2million people were left with cold and dark homes last year as they ran out of credit. Suppliers have increasingly stepped up with the use of court warrants to force their way into homes to install prepayment meters as energy prices have surged this winter.

Some magistrates have been known to approve thousands of applications at a time.

In the case of homes without a smart meter, the change can be completed remotely without the need for a warrant.

It is estimated that 600,000 people were forced to make the move away from credit meters after racking up debt with their energy supplier in 2022.

This compares with 380,000 in 2021, according to a report published by Citizens Advice.

The report argued that there should be an immediate ban on the use of court warrants.

It comes amid fears that another 160,000 people could be switched off by the end of winter unless further action is taken.

Dame Clare Moriarty, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said it was essential that the Government intervenes.

She said: “There must be a total ban on energy companies forcing those already at breaking point on to prepayment meters.

“If the energy regulator doesn’t act, the government must intervene.”

Campaigners have also warned of “disconnection by the back door”, with consumers struggling to pay for a variety of items, such as food and internet connections, due to rising costs.

Prepay meters charge for energy at a higher rate than contracts where the customer pays monthly or through direct debit.

As a result, those in debt on prepay meters often have no choice but to “self-disconnect” in order to save money.

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However, for many consumers running out of credit is not a one-off event.

According to the report, over two million people are being disconnected at least once a month.

A fifth of those on prepay meters report going without heat or light.

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