Britain’s energy regulator toughens rules on forced pre-pay meters

LONDON (Reuters) – British energy regulator Ofgem on Wednesday announced tougher rules for energy suppliers seeking to forcibly install pre-payment meters into homes of customers struggling to pay their energy bills.

From November 8, companies will not be allowed to forcibly install meters in the homes of those aged 75 or over, down from 85 currently, nor in the homes of those with children under two. Households where residents have severe health issues, or medical dependencies on being warm will also be protected, Ofgem said.

“Ofgem will be monitoring suppliers’ behaviour closely to ensure they are complying with the spirit and letter of these rules. If that is not the case we will not hesitate to take action,” said Neil Kenward, director for strategy at Ofgem.

The practice of forced pre-pay meters came under scrutiny earlier this year after The Times newspaper reported that debt agents working on behalf of Centrica’s British Gas had forcibly installed prepayment meters in some vulnerable customers’ homes.

Centrica CEO Chris O’Shea said at the time he was deeply concerned by the revelations and the company launched its own internal investigation.

Ofgem temporarily banned all companies from forcibly installing the meters – which can lead to supplies being cut off if they are not topped up – while it developed a new code of practice.

Ofgem said forcibly installing a meter should be the last resort of an energy supplier.

However, it added that some customers said they have found the meters useful in helping to budget for energy bills.

(Reporting By Susanna Twidale;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)