Coronavirus: Cutting off of pay-as-you-go energy meters suspended for customers in financial distress, ministers announce
The cutting off of pay-as-you-go energy meters will be "completely suspended" for hard-up customers who ask for help during the coronavirus crisis, ministers have announced.
Business Secretary Alok Sharma said customers who use pay-as-you-go options for their energy supply could "rest assured" that they would continue to be served if they reach out for help when struggling to top up.
Around four million homes in the UK get their electricity and gas using pre-payment meters, and they are more likely to be used by people in tight financial circumstances.
The latest move forms part of a package of emergency measures unveiled by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy as the Government tries to stem the economic impact of a wide-scale shutdown of the country to tackle the coronavirus.
The Department for Business said that from Thursday, customers with pre-payment meters who are unable to add credit would be able to speak to their suppliers about options to keep their homes heated and powered.
Measures available included allowing a third party to top up on a customer's behalf, having a discretionary fund added to their account, or being sent a pre-loaded card by the supplier.
"More broadly, any energy customer in financial distress will also be supported by their supplier, which could include debt repayments and bill payments being reassessed, reduced or paused where necessary, while disconnection of credit meters will be completely suspended," the Department said.
Mr Sharma said the Government recognised that many energy customers would "need additional support and reassurance, particularly those who are financially impacted or in vulnerable circumstances".
He added: "The Government has committed to do whatever it takes to get our nation through the impacts of this coronavirus pandemic. Today those most in need can rest assured that a secure supply of energy will continue to flow into their homes during this difficult time."
The move follows talks between the Government and energy firms aimed at ensuring Brits do not find themselves without energy as much of the country grinds to a halt to deal with the Covid-19 epidemic.
Audrey Gallacher, the head of lobbying group Energy UK, said firms had "well-practised contingency plans in order to ensure the delivery of services" at a time of crisis.
She added: "Suppliers will be doing all they can to identify such customers and provide additional support wherever possible."
David Smith, chief Executive of the Energy Networks Association, said customers unable to top up their meters should contact their suppliers "immediately to discuss how they can be kept on supply".
He said: "Ofgem recommends consumers leave the meter box unlocked if they need someone else to top up the meter. Smart meter customers should be able to top-up remotely, such as by phone, mobile application or online."
Dame Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens' Advice, meanwhile urged energy suppliers to "play their part by communicating clearly and supporting their customers as much as possible".
She said: "Keeping people on supply, making sure they have warm homes and don’t face additional financial or other stresses about their energy supply will be essential.
"Suppliers will need to put in place support measures for people on prepayment meters, people and families who need to self-isolate or take steps to reduce social contact, and people who may otherwise be in vulnerable situations."