Labour Calls For Extension On Pre-Payment Meter Ban
A temporary ban was placed on the forced installation of pre-payment meters in February 2023. (Alamy)
Labour has called on the government to extend the moratorium on pre-payment meters following reports they are still being forcibly installed in vulnerable households.
In a letter to energy secretary Claire Coutinho seen by PoliticsHome, shadow energy minister Jeff Smith said pre-payment meter installations could lead to "self-disconnections", and warned that households could be "left without heat and light in winter temperatures, with dangerous health outcomes".
The installation of pre-payment meters was temporarily banned in February 2023 after media reports that court warrants were being issued to install the pay-as-you-go meters in vulnerable people's homes as energy bills began to soar.
Energy regulator Ofgem subsequently announced a new code of conduct for the installation of the meters, including banning them in the homes of vulnerable groups including over 85s and households with children under two years old.
However, a recent investigation by The Times discovered warrants have been granted for Scottish Power to force-fit meters in at least two properties where children under two were living.
"This raises real concerns about what is now going to happen as the government lifts the current moratorium and whether suppliers will adhere to the new rules put in place from November 8th," said Smith in his letter to Coutinho.
"While no supplier has yet been given permission by Ofgem to start forcibly fitting pre-payment meters again, warrants being granted to access at least two vulnerable homes show that there are clearly flaws in the system of assessing vulnerability."
Earlier this month the energy secretary said it was "simply not acceptable" for energy companies to be continuing installing pre-payment meters in vulnerable households following reports on Scottish Power's conduct.
"We cannot return to the abhorrent practices we saw last year," wrote Coutinho on X.
"I've spoken to Scottish Power and Ofgem to make clear we expect suppliers to uphold new standards of care."
Shadow minister Smith outlined several areas of concern driving Labour's call for the extension of the ban, including: strengthening compliance and monitoring practices for pre-payment meter installations; and widening the "criteria of vulnerability" for households.
Smith also said Labour was "concerned by Ofgem’s proposals to allow energy suppliers to recover their costs related to the moratorium on involuntary pre-payment meter installations by increasing bills for all customers."
"I am therefore requesting that you extend the moratorium on force-fitting pre-payment meters until these issues are adequately addressed," Smith wrote.
"I would be grateful for your response on how the government will ensure that warrants are not issued for households with the most vulnerable residents in future."
Simon Francis, coordinator at End Fuel Poverty coalition told PoliticsHome Labour's intervention was a "welcome surprise".
"MPs had the chance to ban forced pre-payment meters during the passage of the Energy Act, but Labour didn’t take the opportunity to back those amendments," Francis said.
He added: "The problem is that the recent revelations and the issues with monitoring were entirely predictable and so that’s why we felt a ban on forced pre-payment meters was so important.
"We really need the current ban to remain in place this winter. This will give some extra time for monitoring systems to be improved.
"Especially given energy bills will go up on 1 January, we shouldn’t be leaving this in limbo."
A department for energy security and net zero spokesperson said “all suppliers must adhere to Ofgem’s strict new licence conditions and abide by the exemptions for vulnerable people".
“We have been unequivocal with Ofgem and suppliers about their responsibilities and will continue to monitor the situation closely," they said.
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe